Ramadan, which is the 9th month of the Muslim lunar calendar, is a month of fasting as prescribed for Muslims in the Qur’an. This sacred month for Muslims marks a time where Muslims around the globe partake in fasting, alms giving, late night prayers, and reading Qur’an. Ramadan is one of the 5 pillars of Islam.
The word Ramadan comes from the Arabic root ramiḍa or ar-ramad which means scorching heat or dryness. The month of Ramadan generally last 28-30 days depending upon the lunar cycle. As a result, Ramadan generally starts 9 days earlier then in the preceding year. The observant Muslim will abstain from all food, drink, and sex from sun up to sun down and consciously work to improve their character. This involves making an effort to abstain from sinful behavior such as backbiting, slander, cursing, and fighting.
Only healthy adult Muslims must perform Ramadan. If someone is ill, pregnant, on their monthly, or a child then it is not required to perform Ramadan. If a person is unable to make up days that they missed due to health reasons then they can feed poor people after the month is over to make up for lost days.
At the end of Ramadan, Muslims give 2.5% of their wealth that they have held since the previous year to charity. This is called Zakat. The community leader will generally take the zakat and give it out to needy Muslims.
The typical day starts by the Muslim getting up in the middle of the night to eat Suhur or breakfast. This has to be completed before the dawn prayer where the light of the sun can start to be seen. Then the Muslim will fast until the sun begins to go down. The fast is typically broken by eating dates and drinking juice or water. Then the Muslim will pray Maghrib prayer, and after this prayer the Muslim will go back to eating a complete meal.
After the meal it is generally close to the Isha or the nighttime prayer. The Muslims will generally perform this prayer and then afterwards perform the Tarawih prayer. This prayer breaks up the Qur’an into sections over the entire course of Ramadan ensuring that the entire Qur’an is covered in prayer during the month of Ramadan.
During the last ten nights of Ramadan it is customary to spend the night inside of the mosque and perform even more prayers in the middle of the night. This is even more so on the odd numbered nights. Most Muslims believe that Lilat al-Qadr or the Night of Power is on the 27th night of Ramadan. Earlier traditions say that it can be on any of the odd number nights in the last ten days of Ramadan, whereas some traditions say it is during the first ten nights. The majority opinion is that Lilat al-Qadr, or the Night of Power is on an odd number night during the last 10 days and probably during the 27th night of Ramadan.
Lilat al-Qadr or the Night of Power is the night that Muslims believe that the early ayats or verses of the Qur’an was revealed. It is believed that the Qur’an was first revealed during the month of Ramadan. On the Night of Power, it is believed by Muslims that Allah blesses everyone, forgives all sins, grants all prayers, and that the angels will come down to Earth. Also it is believed that Allah descends into the lower heavens.
So what is the purpose of Ramadan? What are the spiritual benefits that Muslims seek to obtain by performing Ramadan?
The essence of Ramadan is about reconnecting with our Lord, to reconnect with Allah. To use the rope that Allah has given us to reconnect with which is the Qur’an. The Prophet Muhammad said that the unbreakable rope to Allah is the Qur’an. So part of the covenant with Allah during Ramadan is to return to the book of Allah, and to discipline ourselves to read it and reflecting upon its meaning.
Ramadan is also a time to reckon oneself and to do a reckoning of one self. This involves questions like, “What have we done in the past year, and what will we do in the upcoming year?”
Muslims believe that this is not just the way of the Prophet Muhammad, but that this is also the way of previous prophets such as Abraham, Moses, David, John the Baptist, and Jesus. It is believed by Muslims that this is the way of all prophetic traditions. So by doing this we are walking in the paths of the Prophets, this is the well-trodden path, that this has always been the way of those closest to God.
So when we are fasting it is believed that we are sharing and partaking in a discipline that every seeker of God in the past of any prophetic tradition has done. We are connecting ourselves to an unbroken chain of tradition in connecting ourselves in a deep and sacred bond with every seeker of God from the beginning of time to the end of time. That we are connected with them in this sacred search to allow ourselves to be rescued by Allah, so that is why this is a blessed month for people to take the most benefit as they can and not to be distracted. So we should be doing less watching television and more reading the Qur’an.
Muslims use this time to discipline the tongue and the heart. To refrain from negativity by remembering their creator. Imam Ghazali said, “The real fasting is not the fasting of the stomach, but the real fasting is that of the heart.” This allows us to prevent our heart from feasting on prohibited thoughts and concerns like doubt, fear, and anxiety about provisions where they will come from? This means that one does not trust in God, so they let these feelings of fear go.
One of the things about the modern world is that it is a fear-based world. There are all of these demons out there trying to scare people. Scare them about their provision, scare them about this and that. You can lose your job, you can lose your wealth. Indeed you can lose it all but if you have Allah you have not lost anything, because just as the poet Rumi said, “Everything you desire exists with Allah so seek Allah and you will get everything you desire”.
This is an important concept to remember when our world is in the current state that it is in. Seems like everything is hopeless. You turn on the news and there is always another terrorist attack or mass-murder. Police are no longer trusted but seen as combatants of the citizens of the world. When we look at the two largest industries it puts the state of our planet into perspective. The largest industry is intoxicants, and the second largest industry is armaments. This is meant to keep people in a state of stupor while they are giving them the means to destroy themselves.
We break ourselves from this madness by fasting, disciplining ourselves, and refusing ourselves to react in the reactionary modes entering into the obsessive-compulsive demands of the self. Take this, you need this, I have to have this, I must have this. We as Muslims use the fast to reject on all of that and saying that, “I trust in Allah”. This is what Ramadan is about, trusting in Allah.