Monday, August 1, 2011


As a way to mark the Night of Power (Lailat-ul-Qadr in Arabic)—when the Koran was first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad—fasting (sawm) every day during the ninth month (Ramadan) of the Islamic lunar calendar defines one of the Five Pillars of Islam. By the end of Ramadan, Muslims will have experienced hunger and thirst most of the time, and thus will be genuinely inclined to relieve the burden of the poor for whom this is a permanent plight. Muslims' awareness of the whole community of believers (Umma) should have increased over the month as a result of training to forgo the gratification of their own desires, since they and their fellow believers will have been radically curbing them for 29–30 days in a row. This discipline frees the spirit from its habitual patterns and reminds it of God's sovereignty and provident mercy.

As self-mastery for God's sake, Ramadan is an inner holy war against temptations, where valor is shown through endurance (sabr) against Satan and the strengthening of faith. But it is first and foremost an act of pure submission (the literal meaning of the word islam) to God's command, given in the sura (chapter) entitled Al Baqarah in the Koran. This is the only passage where a month is mentioned by name, with instructions to fast throughout the month during which the holy book was first "revealed as guidance to man and clear proof of the guidance, and criterion (of falsehood and truth)." ...

Thus, the fast regulates the entry into the body of all foreign substances, whether food, drink, smoke, or medication. All of these are banned between the first glimmer of dawn until the sun has completely set, at which time all these exchanges between inside and outside become licit again. These two moments of the start and end of the daily fasting period are signaled by cannon shots during Ramadan in the cities of many Islamic countries.

Just after sunset and the iftar prayer for the breaking of the fast has been said, it is usual to have a light snack, such as one or three dates as was Muhammad's custom; this evening "breakfast" is experienced as a kind of sacrament of brotherhood. Once the daily evening prayer has been completed, a full dinner may be consumed—obviously none too soon. In this context, a festive atmosphere overtakes Muslim neighborhoods as friends visit each other's families. Near bedtime, extra tarawih prayers for Ramadan follow the daily night prayer at home or at the mosque ….

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As adherents approach the end of Ramadan (in 2011, this occurs at the end of August), the time between sundown on the 29th and the next morning's Eid ul-Fitr communal prayer for the breaking of the fast is set aside for special takbir prayers of Allahu Akbar ("God is Most Great") said in common in a number of variants. This time is also set aside for giving Zakat ul-Fitr—the seasonal "poor due," or support of the needy, which the head of the family must donate on behalf of all of its members to the corresponding number of needy Muslims. Zakat is another one of the Five Pillars of Islam. ...

After a month of ascetic exertion, Muslims watch for the new moon of Eid ul-Fitr (the festival marking the end of the month of Ramadan) with a great deal of excitement. The day before its expected appearance, men spend the day at the mosque and women take the children to cemeteries to visit departed family members. The new moon must be sighted between the sunset of the 29th and the break of dawn on the following day, or else a 30th day of fasting is added. The same method is used at the end of the previous month of Shaban to determine the actual beginning of Ramadan. …

At its core, Ramadan is one of the most important of all Islamic holy events—in depriving the body, enriching the soul, honoring Muhammad and the Koran, and submitting to God's command—and it has connected Muslims across the world for millennia, and continues to do so today.


Roy, Christian. "Ramadan 2011: Background." World Religions: Belief, Culture, and Controversy. ABC-CLIO, 2011. Web. 1 Aug. 2011.


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