Ramadan and fasting
Ramadan starts on August 11, 2010, it is the ninth month of the Muslim year 1431 AH (After Hijri). Ramadan is the holiest month of the year and is the month during which the Quran was first revealed to the Prophet Mohammed. Ramadan is the ninth month of the Muslim Lunar calendar, it is observed with great ceremony. Muslims may not eat or drink from dawn to dusk every day of this month, but there are exemptions.
Under-age children, the infirm elderly and the ill, are exempt from the requirements of fasting while those who are traveling or are menstruating women, may make up afterwards.
Fasting during the month of Ramadan are not merely the acts of going hungry and thirsty; hunger helps to develop an empathy with the person who may be hungry because s-he has no choice. While Muslims must abstain from eating and drinking between dawn and Dusk, it does not give them permission to binge either before or after fasting in order to better survive the ordeals of the day. Islam insists that everything be done in moderation thus; one may eat only until there is still some room in the stomach.
It is important to articulate the intention (“Niyah”) of fasting during the night before fasting. This then binds the person to keep his or her promise and may not be broken unless one is injured or one’s health gives out.
Some say this is the hardest month to endure in the entire Muslim year. During this month Muslims cannot bear grudges, nor harbor ill-will or give in to rage, greed or envy. If followed as they were intended by God, such disciplines help Muslims become better people and better contributors to the community, from year to year.
To better understand how it might help improve the humanity of a person, try the following exercise for one day…Note: DO NOT fast if your health is likely to be affected by fasting or if you are pregnant or you are menstruating.
During the prior evening, make an intention of keeping fast the next day. On the day of the fast, rise an hour before sunrise and eat a small meal; say a prayer asking God to help you with this deed of fasting and asking Him to bless you and those around you.
During the day, one may not even fib (“I am sorry s-he is not in, may I take a message?”).
If cut off on the road, take a deep breath, bless the person and let it go.
Do not be in such a rush that you forget the importance or the dignity of your fellow humans.
If you have ill-will towards someone, try and make an attempt to resolve the issue; try not to let the issue exist any more. If you feel anger coming on, say a prayer asking God to help you and let the anger dissolve away.
Do not give in to an impulse to “check out” a man or a woman. Do not look at their face or their body with any sexual curiosity or interest; look away.
If you cannot say something good then do not say something bad. Do not swear.
It is okay to think of the hours to breaking fast but do not dwell in it.
Think of people who may be hungry and have no choice about it; can you do something to contribute to their betterment?
At sunset, break your fast with a token meal (small fruit or bread) and a glass of water. Stop for about ten minutes to pray and thank God for His blessings upon you and for helping you keep your fast. Say a prayer for your friends, relatives and your fellow humans.
You may now eat your meal but not so you are full; leave a little space for moderation.
These are most of the requirements of fasting for a Muslim.
Consider how it may help improve the person who follows such practices every day for an entire month.
During the final few days of the month, Muslims enter into extended evening prayer in order to be lucky enough to be found praying on that elusive Night of Power (“Lailatul Qadr”) which is considered to have blessings worth a thousand nights of prayer.
The Muslim (Lunar) calendar is about 10 days shorter than the (Solar) Gregorian Calendar, thus, Ramadan begins about ten days earlier each Western Year. The significance of this difference is that Ramadan cycles through every season, over a period of about thirty-three years…including Summer! Of course if people are lucky enough to live in mild climates like I do in the North-West US, fasting during Summer is not a problem. Unfortunately, if one is living in the Middle-East , Africa or Asia where Summer can get awfully hot, fasting can be a test of endurance as well as of faith!
At the end of this month, the first day of the next Lunar month, Shawwal, marks the beginning of three days of festivities called Eid-ul-Fitr. Muslims congregate at their nearest mosques and sometimes all together at a large venue for the largest congregational prayers and wearing their newest clothing. Some years ago, about 7000 Muslims congregated at the Seattle Convention Center for Eid prayers, it was a memorable event. At the conclusion of Eid prayers, Muslims traditionally embrace each other and congratulate each other for the festive days (“Eid Mubarak”).
In the Old Country, houses are sometimes decorated with small lines of oil-lamps during these three days (Christmas lights, these days). As a child I remember the tradition for all junior friends and relatives to visit those senior to us and to offer them Eid blessings. As children, we looked forward to being given a plate of goodies to eat but after the umpteenth visit, we could barely look at the traditional plate we were given! Adults also have a tradition of giving some money to children on this day…we never got tired of that!
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