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RAMADAN. For the duration of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Muslim lunar calendar all Muslims are required to abstain during the daylight hours from eating any food, drinking any liquids, or engaging in sexual activity. Fasting (sawm; pl., siyam) means abstention; through heightened awareness of their own bodily needs Muslims come to greater awareness of the presence of God and acknowledge their gratitude for God’s provisions in their lives. Abstinence during Ramadan, first prescribed in the second year of the Hijrah, is required of all Muslims except children, those who are ill or too elderly, those who are traveling, and women who are menstruating or have just given birth or are breastfeeding. In such cases one may make up the days of fasting in a later month.

The month of Ramadan during which the fast takes place starts with the announcement of the first sighting of the waxing moon and concludes when the moon is first seen for the next month, Shawwal. If the moon cannot be seen, it ends with the completion of thirty fasts. On each day of Ramadan the fasting starts at dawn-defined as the moment when a white thread can be distinguished from a black one by the human eyeand concludes at dusk. Because the Muslim calendar is lunar, the month of Ramadan rotates through the months of the solar calendar. This means that fasting sometimes takes place in winter when the daylight hours are few, easing the stringency of the abstention, while at other times the day of fasting may be as long as twenty hours.

Like many other obligations of Islam, fasting during the month of Ramadan serves to enhance the sense of community as Muslims across the world join together in performance of this ritual. It is a deeply symbolic time: for a whole month Muslim men and women of all races, nationalities, and ethnic identities join together in an experience of global unity, brotherhood, and sisterhood. Following the example of the prophet Muhammad, Muslims generally break their fast by taking dates and a glass of water. This is followed by the sharing of a common meal in which people join in expressing gratitude for God’s provisions to them.

The Qur’an traces the origins of fasting as a spiritual exercise to the time of the early prophets and understands it to be an integral part of the teachings of revealed religions (2.183). The month of Ramadan itself is particularly sacred to Muslims because it was during that time that the first revelation of the Qur’an was received from God by the prophet Muhammad: “During the month of Ramadan the Qur’an was sent down as a guidance to the people with clear signs of the true guidance and as the criterion [between right and wrong]” (2.185). The particular night on which the first revelation came to the Prophet, Laylat al-Qadr (Night of

Power) is referred to in several verses of the Qur’an. The whole of surah 97 is devoted to this crucial event. It is marked by special celebrations, Qur’anic recitation competitions, and vigils on odd nights, during the last ten days of Ramadan.

Ramadan also happens to be the month in which two decisive battles were fought and won by the early Muslim community, namely, the Ghazwat Badr (Battle of Badr, AH 2/624 CE) and the Fath Makkah (Conquest of Mecca, AH 8/630 CE).

Both the historical and the communal dimensions of Ramadan are manifested in the fact that each year, over the course of the month, the Qur’an is recited from beginning to end, just as it was received by the early Muslim community in Makkah and al-Madinah (Mecca and Medina) fourteen centuries ago.

Ramadan is also the time when the ethical responsibilities of being Muslim are highlighted. Abstention from food, drink, and sex is understood to help develop selfcontrol through awareness of God (taqwa), which is considered the backbone of religious discipline in Islam, and to aid the believer in feeling the sufferings of others who hunger and thirst: “Believers, fasting is enjoined upon you, as it was enjoined upon those before you, that you become Allah-conscious” (2.183). The external observation of the fast is merely a reflection of the internal intention to live a life of ethical and moral integrity. Ramadan is therefore the month in which the qualities of God-consciousness (taqwa), striving for the good (khayr), practicing virtue (ma’ruf), and demonstrating piety (birr) become the norms both for the individual and for the Muslim community as a whole.

The prophet Muhammad stressed that Ramadan is not simply a time to cease from indulging in the pleasures of the body, but a month in which the range of ethical responsibilities incumbent on Muslims should be given special attention. “If someone does not stop telling lies and promoting falsehoods during the fast, then know, Allah does not want a person simply to stop eating and drinking” (Bukhari, vol. 1). Even the concept of abstinence itself takes on a dimension beyond mere fasting. “If a person is fasting and someone tries to fight with him or abuse him, he should not react but should rather abstain from fighting and foul language by saying, `I am fasting”‘ (Sahih Muslim, vol. i, Bdb fadl al-siydm).

The Prophet stressed that fasting is not intended to be a hardship on people as such, and he certainly did not indicate that enjoyment of food and drink or sex in itself, at appropriate times, is not desirable. He urged the taking of a regular meal (suhur) before starting the fast and enjoying a moderate repast at the time when the fast is broken each day (iftar). Fasting is intended to be regulated according to the ability of humans to perform it. The Prophet is reported to have said that “if someone were to fast all the time [i.e. without a break] he would not be considered a faster” (Bukhari, vol. I, Kitab al-sawm). Another hadith suggests that one must avoid keeping two or more fasts together without having proper nutrition in between. The Qur’an itself says that sexual activity with one’s wife is permitted at the appropriate time: “Permitted to you on the night of the fasts is the approach to your wives, for they are your garments and you are their garments” (2.187).

Contemporary Muslim interpreters have emphasized the following advantages of fasting during Ramadan. It draws people out of their habitual behavior into a fresh state of mind; it is good for physical health; it helps people appreciate the sufferings of others; it provides discipline of the will and training in patience; and it is a means for purifying the soul.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

`All, `Abdallah Yusuf, trans. The Holy Qur’an. New rev. ed. Brentwood, Md., 1989.

Bukhari, Muhammad ibn Isma’Il al-. The Translation of the Meanings of Sahih al-Bukhari. 9 vols. Translated by M. M. Khan. 3d rev. ed. Chicago, 1979.

Mawdudi, Sayyid Abu al-A’la. Let Us Be Muslims. Translated and edited by Khurram Murad. Leicester, 1981.

Mawdudi, Sayyid Abu al-A’la. Towards Understanding the Qur’an. Vol. 1. Translated by Zafar Ishaq Ansari. Leicester, 1988. Translation of Tafhim al-Qur’an.

Murad, Khurram. Istiqbal-i Ramazan. Lahore, 1990.

Muslim ibn al-Hajjaj al-Qushayri. Sahih Muslim. 4 vols. Translated by ‘Abdul Hamid Siddiqi. Lahore, 1976.

Naqvi, Abulhasan `All. The Four Pillars of Islam. Translated by Mohammad A. Kidwai. Lucknow, 1978.

Nu’mani, M. Manzoor. Meaning and Message of the Traditions. Translated by Mohammad A. Kidwai. Lucknow, 1979.

Plessner, M. “Ramadan.” In Shorter Encyclopaedia of Islam, edited by H. A. R. Gibb and J. H. Kramers, pp. 468-469. Leiden, 1953. Sadruddin, Isiah!. Islam at a Glance. Translation of Islam Ek Nazar Men by M. Zafar Iqbal. Delhi, 1985.

Von Grunebaum, G. E. Muhammadan Festivals. New York, 1951.

ANIS AHMAD

Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/ramadan/
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  • writerPosted On: July 11, 2017
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