Ramadan honors the night in 610 A.D. when the Koran descended into the soul of the Prophet Muhammad. The last ten days of Ramadan are particularly holy as they include Laylat al-Qadr, night of power, which is the night when the Angel Gabriel first spoke to Muhammad and revealed the Koran (Glasse 276). Muslims celebrate this occasion with fasting, which is an important part of their religion as it is one of the five pillars or key practices of Islam.
The five pillars of Islam are shahada, salah, zakat, sawm, and hajj. Shahada, the first pillar, means confession of one’s faith in Allah as the only God and Muhammad as his prophet. The second pillar is salah or prayer. Muslims pray at five designated times each day between sunrise and sunset. Followers of Islam give 2.5% of their total worth annually to charity. This is known as zakat and is the third pillar of Islam. Sawm, fasting, is the fourth pillar of Islam. Fasting takes place each year during Ramadan. The fifth pillar of Islam, hajj, requires each follower of Islam to make a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once during his lifetime (Beverley 11).
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. Muslims follow a lunar calendar, which is approximately 11 days shorter than the solar year on which the Western calendar is based (Moehn 82). For this reason the months on the Islamic calendar move back about 10 days each year. This year Ramadan occurs in the summer, but by 2030 it will occur during the winter months (Moehn 111).
Ramadan begins with the actual sighting of the new moon. The Ramadan fast begins in the morning when there is enough light to distinguish a white thread from a black thread and continues until the sun sinks completely past the horizon.
During the month of Ramadan Muslims arise before the sun to partake in the sahoor. Sahoor is the morning meal that will sustain one until he breaks the fast after dark. When the sun begins to rise the faithful begin their morning prayers (Emerick 146). Muslims consume no food or drink, including water, during the fast. “During the daytime fast … believers must also abstain from sexual enjoyment, listening to music, and as far as possible from all pleasures of the senses” (Glasse 378). The faithful should avoid all sins during Ramadan as religious scholars believe that committing certain acts undoes any good that fasting accomplishes. When the sun has completely fallen below the horizon worshippers break the fast with the iftar, a small snack usually consisting of dates and water. Following the evening prayers they enjoy a more substantial meal together (Emerick 147).
All Muslims who have reached the age of puberty and are sane and healthy enough to do so must observe Ramadan by fasting. A healthy Muslim who is unable to observe Ramadan at the prescribed time has an obligation to observe it at another time of the year (Glasse 377-378).
The New Encyclopedia of Islam Revised Edition of the Concise Encyclopedia of Islam states:
The principle of fasting is related to that of limitation. Without limitation, knowledge is impossible, for it is when we come to the end or limit of a thing that its true nature becomes evident. Ramadan’s marking the end to indulgence, or imposing a clear limit to it day after day for a month, offers an unmistakable spiritual lesson. It also constitutes a purification and a kind of sacrifice, which, like the pruning of trees, leads to renewal and fresh strength. On the moral plane it also brings a direct understanding of the suffering of the hungry (Glasse 378).
This year Ramadan begins on July 20th and will conclude on August 19th with the beginning of a new month. As our Muslim neighbors begin this time of fasting let us all reflect on the sacrifice they make in going without food or water for more than 14 hours each day during the hot summer months.
If you want to know more about Ramadan or the Islamic faith contact the Islamic Association of the Shenandoah Valley (IASV). IASV is located at 1330 Country Club Road in Harrisonburg.
Beverley, James A. Islamic Faith in
Facts On File, 2002. Print. New York, NY
Emerick, Yahiya. The Complete Idiot's Guide to Understanding Islam.
Alpha, 2002. Print. Indianapolis, IN
Glasse, Cyril. The New Encyclopedia of Islam Revised Edition of the Concise Encyclopedia of Islam.
Walnut Creek, CA: Altamira, 2001.
Moehn, Heather. World Holidays: A
Watts Guide for
Children. New York:
Franklin Watts, 2000. Print.