The History of Ramadan
It is believed that the Quran was first revealed to Muhammad during the month of Ramadan. The historical records show that the first revelation was sent down on Laylat al-Qadr (the Night of Power) which is one of the five odd nights of the last ten days of Ramadan. According to the Hadiths, the entire Quran was ‘sent’ during Ramadan.
The first evening of Ramadan
In many places around the world, Muslims will be looking to the heavens this evening. They will be interested in knowing if they will be able to see the crescent moon. If it is visible this will be the signal for the beginning of the month of Ramadan. (In most countries religious authorities will make a proclamation concerning the beginning of Ramadan). No fasting will take place till the next morning. Muslims will rise early to eat their breakfast before the day begins. Afterward, they will not have anything else to eat or drink till nightfall. This will be their daily experience during the next 30 days.
Fasting – Ramadan
Fasting is one of the Five Pillars of the religion of Islam and one of the highest forms of Islamic worship. Abstinence from earthly pleasures and curbing evil intentions and desires is regarded as an act of obedience and submission to God as well as an atonement for sins, errors, and mistakes. Called Ramadan (or Ramazan), Muslims fast during this holy month from the moment when it first starts to get light until sunset. Muslims fast as an act of faith and worship towards Allah, seeking to suppress their desires and increase their spiritual piety. Fasting together as a worldwide community – Ummah – affirms the brotherhood and equality of man before Allah.
The Islamic calendar is based on the lunar cycle. The month of Ramadan is the ninth month and begins with a combination of the sighting of the new moon and astronomical calculations. The exact time of Ramadan sometimes varies from place to place as some rely heavily on the moon sightings while others depend on science. An Imam (Muslim holy man) will declare the exact time of Ramadan just prior to its commencement. The fasting period ends upon the sighting of the next new moon, which occurs after 29 or 30 days.
The lunar cycle changes each year. For example, one year Ramadan was from 22 August-20 September, but the year before the dates for Ramadan were 01-30 September.
The Meaning of Ramadan
The name Ramadan is derived from the Arabic word ramida or ar-ramad, denoting intense scorching heat and dryness, especially the ground. From the same word, there is ramdaa, meaning ‘sunbaked sand’, and the famous proverb Kal Mustajeer minar ramadaa binnar – to jump out of the frying pan into the fire. Some say it is so-called because Ramadan scorches out the sins with good deeds, as the sun burns the ground.
Emotions of Ramadan
Ramadan brings out a special feeling of emotional excitement and religious zeal among Muslims of all ages. Though fasting is mandatory only for adults, children as young as eight willingly observe fasting with their elders. Children look forward to the excitement of sighting the moon and eating special meals with their families. Adults appreciate the opportunity to double their rewards from God and seek forgiveness for past sins. As Ramadan emphasizes Muslim brotherhood and community all feel a particular closeness.
Muslims have to change their whole physical and emotional selves during these 30 long days of fasting. A typical day of fasting begins with getting up early, around 4:30 a.m., and sharing a meal called Sahur together before the fast begins at dawn, about 5:10 a.m. As dawn breaks, the first of five daily prayers, Fajr, is offered.
As the day proceeds, fasting Muslims are constantly bombarded with messages from their stomachs that it is time for breakfast, snack, lunch, and so on. And each time, Muslims remind themselves that they are fasting for the sole purpose of pleasing Allah and seeking his mercy. They offer the second and third prayers during the early and late afternoon, respectively.
Fasting helps one to experience how a hungry person feels and what it is like to have an empty stomach. It teaches one to share the sufferings of the less fortunate. Muslims believe that fasting leads one to appreciate the bounties of Allah, which are usually taken for granted – until they are missed!
Throughout the day Muslims are encouraged to go out of their way to help the needy, both financially and emotionally. Some believe that a reward earned during this month is multiplied 70 times and more. For this reason, Ramadan is also known as the month of charity and generosity.
To a Muslim, fasting not only means abstaining from food but also refraining from all vice and evils committed consciously or unconsciously. It is believed that if one volunteer to refrain from lawful foods and sex, they will be in a better position to avoid unlawful things and acts during the rest of the year.
Breaking The Daily Fast
The fast is broken at sunset. The Prophet Muhammad recommended breaking the fast with dates. Muslims are urged to invite others to break the fast with them. These gatherings are called Iftar parties.
Just after breaking the fast, and before dinner, Muslims offer the fourth of the five daily prayers, which is called the Maghrib prayer. After dinner, Muslims go to their houses of worship, called Mosques, to offer the Isha prayer, which is the last of the five daily prayers. The day ends with a special voluntary prayer, the Taraweeh, offered by the congregation reciting the Qur’an, the holy book of Islam.
The Last 10 Days of Ramadan
The last ten days of Ramadan are considered highly blessed, especially the 27th night which is also called the ‘Night of Power’, or the ‘Night of Destiny’. It is believed that on this night the prophet Muhammad received the first revelation of the Qur’an. For many Muslims, this period is marked by a heightened spiritual intensity and they may spend these nights praying and reciting the Qur’an.
After 30 days of fasting, the end of the month of Ramadan is observed with a day of celebration, called Eid-ul-Fitr. On this day, Muslims gather in one place to offer a prayer of thanks. It is traditional to wear new clothes, visit friends and relatives, exchange gifts, eat delicious dishes prepared for this occasion, and wait patiently for the next year.