Ramadan brings out a special feeling of emotional excitement and religious zeal among Muslims of all ages. It is one of the holiest months for Muslims. Ramadan is the 9th month of the Islamic calendar. Ramadan is expected to begin on or around August 1, 2011 and will finish on or around August 29, 2011, and will continue for 29 or 30 days. Every day during this month, Muslims around the world spend the daylight hours in a complete fast. Note that in the Muslim calendar, a holiday begins on the sunset of the previous day, so observing Muslims will celebrate Ramadan on the sunset of the 31st of July.
Ramadan is always on the same day of the Islamic calendar, the date on the Gregorian calendar varies from year to year, since the Gregorian calendar is a solar calendar and the Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar. This difference means Ramadan moves in the Gregorian calendar approximately 11 days every year. Hence the above estimated Ramadan dates for the next year’s show that every year Ramadan starts 11 to 12 earlier than the previous year. The date of Ramadan may also vary from country to country depending on whether the moon has been sighted or not. In this month Muslims all around the world fast and worship God. Ramadan is also a time of intensive worship, reading of the Qur’an, giving charity, purifying one’s behaviour, and doing good deeds. Ramadan or Sawn one of the five pillars of Islam which all Muslims are expected to follow, the other four are Faith (Shahadah); Prayer, Charitable Giving, and the Pilgrimage to Mecca. The holy month of Ramadan is divided into three parts (1) Rahmat, (2) Maghfirat and (3) Nijat. While Rahmat means “Mercy of God, Maghfirat means “Forgiveness of God” and Nijat means “Salvation”. As their meaning suggest, Muslims ask for Allah’s blessings making their life meaningful. Therein lays the significance of Ramadan. Ramadan is the month of celebration as well as the month of discipline and self-control.
Fasting is another form of worship found universally in world religions. Fasting is an ancient and universal practice. The Jews observe an annual fasting on the Day of Atonement in commemoration of the descent of Moses from Sinai after spending forty days of fasting in order to be able to receive revelation. Jesus observed fasting for forty days in the desert and commanded his followers to fast. In brief, the practice of fasting has been common in one form or the other in all human societies. Fasting is a way of experiencing hunger and developing sympathy for the less fortunate, and learning to thankfulness and appreciation for all of God’s bounties. Fasting is also beneficial to the health and provides a break in the cycle of rigid habits or overindulgence. Observing fast, or fasting, is when a person abstains (or keeps away) from eating and drinking. Muslims fast for 30 consecutive days from sunrise to sunset. The Qur’an commands: “O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that ye may (learn) self-restraint. [Surah Bakarah – 2:183]
Eid-ul-Fitr is a holiday marking the end of Ramadan. After 30 days of fasting, the end of the month of Ramadan is observed with a day of celebration, called Eid-ul-Fitr. Eid means ‘festival’ or ‘celebration’ in Arabic and the festival following Ramadan is known as ‘Eid-ul-Fite. On this day a large feast is celebrated on the breaking of the fast of Ramadan, and is held on the first day of Shawwal, right after the month of Ramadan. Also called “Eid,” on this day many elaborate dishes are served at banquet-like gatherings. Additionally, houses are decorated and gifts are exchanged. An important part of Eid-ul-Fitr celebrations is to express warm wishes to your neighbours and invite them for a meal. An interesting idea is to celebrate the Eid-ul-Fitr with poor children. The Muslims are actually advised to offer 3 kilograms of one’s daily ration or its equivalent cash to the poor on this occasion.
Text by Neil Kiriella