Ramadan: What Is It?

Ramadan Mubarak!
Ramadan Mubarak!

The holy month of Ramadan is the most important month of the Islamic year. This ninth month of the lunar calendar is the one in which we Muslims observe our fasting or ‘celebrate Ramadan’.

Fasting the month of Ramadan is number three of the five pillars of Islam and mandatory for all except for those who are children, ill, travelling or women who are pregnant, breastfeeding or on their period. It’s basically the spiritual version of turning of your computer off and turning it back on again after it stops working – a spiritual restart.

When Does Ramadan Start?

The Islamic month before Ramadan is Shaban. At the end of Shaban, Muslims around the world look to the sky to sight the crescent of the new moon which signifies the start of the new month. Of course you can scientifically determine the exact date for a new moon – we like to keep it old school and have local sightings. Unfortunately, this division usually means that the Sunnis and Shites will only begin Ramadan when their Imams have said that someone they trust has seen the crescent. In these situations, I revert to Sheikh Google.

When the moon is sighted in a country, text messages start flying and within minutes, we’ve all told each other that Ramadan is probably starting the next day. Lunar months go for 29 or 30 days.

Since the Islamic calendar works on the lunar cycle, the start of Ramadan shifts by about 10 days every regular calendar year. This means that throughout a lifetime, one will fast Ramadan during all seasons; including the ease of early sunsets in winter and all those long summer days. If our regular calendars ran in the same way, everyone would get to celebrate a white Christmas at some point!

This year, Ramadan is due to start either the 28th or 29th of June. Last year it was the 9th of July.

What are the requirements?

Ramadan involves fasting from the crack of dawn until sunset. Fasting means no food or drinks of any form, no smoking and no sex. The word for fasting in Arabic, sawm, means ‘to refrain’ and is taken is as a wholistic term –  meaning no swearing or lying or cheating or gossiping or being a general jerk-face or doing anything bad with your entire being.

From sunset to sunrise,  you are able to eat and drink as you usually would at any time. It seems that a lot of people take this to mean ‘EAT ALL THE THINGS’ and I’ve seen a lot of wastage. This is definitely not best practice. And yes, you may resume sexy times at sunset, also.

If one misses a day of fasting, this day can be made up over the coming year, before the start of the following Ramadan. For example, ladies who are on their period during Ramadan will fast those days later in the year.

For those who are terminally ill, cannot making up for the missed days, an expiatory payment (or fidya) can be paid to the poor. The amount of money is the value of approximately 2kg of wheat per day. A good explanation for this payment can be found here.

Is it just about not eating?

Ramadan is so much more than not eating or drinking. It is a time to focus on you and your relationship with God and the world you live in. It’s a time to get your act together – forgive those who have wronged you and ask for forgiveness. Re-establish ties with family and friends. It’s a time to think about what you contribute to those who are in need and being hungry and thirsty is a fantastic way to get people to dig deeper.

Are there any special events during Ramadan?

The most important night during Ramadan (or the year) is Laylat Al-Qadr a.k.a The Night of Power, Night of Destiny, Night of Decree or Night of Measure. This is the night that we believe that the Islamic holy book, the Quran, was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad, with the first verse revealed being ‘Read in the name of your Lord who created‘.

This night has a special chapter in the Quran ( Surat Al Qadr ) which states that this night is better than 1000 months (or about 83 years) and that angels descend upon us, bringing with them peace until dawn.

It is also mentioned in hadith (or prophetic literature), where the Prophet stated:  “Whoever establishes the prayers on the night of Qadr out of sincere faith and hoping to attain Allah’s rewards (not to show off) then all his past sins will be forgiven.”

The only problem is that the exact date of this phenomenally important night was never listed in the Quran. The Prophet Muhammad stated that one must seek Laylat Al-Qadr during the odd nights of the last 10 days and thus, there is an emphasis on the spiritual journey of finding this night. Many with therefore treat the last 10 days of Ramadan as the potential night, praying through the night, in deep mediatation.

Those who are able will devote the final 10 days of Ramadan to retreating in a mosque or I’tikaf where they spend the entire time in  the mosque in deep prayer.

What about the end of it?

At the end of these 29 or 30 days comes the three day Eid Al-Fitr, or the Feast of Breaking The Fast which starts on the first day of the month following Ramadan – Shawwal. This is determined in the same manner as the start of Ramadan – the sighting of the new moon. If you’ve been fasting for 31 days, you know that the start of Ramadan was miscalculated and you’ve fasted an extra day. Woops!

The first day of Eid is one of the days of the year where it is not permissible to fast and what a day it is!  With it comes a payment of charity to the poor called Zakat Al-Fitr a food donation which is given to the needy before the morning Eid prayers begin. The donation is usually paid by a parent in the household in the equivalent of  two handfuls of food (grain or dried fruit) per member of the family. Most families I know will use a service such a Human Appeal. These organisations will collect the donations and provide cattle to the needy around the world. I’m sure you can imagine that being hungry results in people giving a lot more than just two handfuls worth of grain. Winning.

Over the next few days, I will be writing two more posts about Ramadan:

Ramadan: What’s the average day like?

Ramadan: Is it dangerous?

 

Hopefully that will answer most questions!  If you have any more, please leave a comment and I will get to it ASAP! 😀

Ramadan Mubarak to you all.

 

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4 comments

  1. […]                                                                      The Islamic community is a dynamic one. For the most part, it is supportive and well-meaning. During Ramadan, Muslims will try to spend as much time together in the evenings – big dinner parties, going out for dessert and coming together for spiritual communal prayers (Don’t know what Ramadan is? Don’t worry, I gotcha covered. Read here.). […]

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