Ramadan, alternatively spelled as Ramazan, Ramzan, Ramadhan, Ramdan, or Ramadaan, marks the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. This sacred period involves fasting for participating Muslims, who abstain from eating and drinking from dawn to dusk. The practice of fasting during Ramadan is designed to cultivate patience, humility, and spirituality among the faithful.
During this month, Muslims fast in devotion to Allah and engage in more prayer than usual. They seek forgiveness for their past transgressions, pray for guidance in avoiding daily sins, and strive for purification through self-discipline and good deeds. Since the Islamic calendar is based on lunar cycles, the dates of Ramadan change each year, moving approximately ten days earlier. It is believed that the first verses of the Qur’an were revealed to the Prophet Muhammad during this month.
The Night of Decree, Laylat al-Qadr or Shab-e-Qadr
Often referred to as “the night of decree or measures,” Laylat al-Qadr, also known as Shab-e-Qadr, is the holiest night of the year within the month of Ramadan. On this night, it is believed that the Qur’an was revealed to Muhammad. The specific date is thought to fall on an odd-numbered night during the last ten days of Ramadan, with Sunni Muslims considering the 21st, 23rd, 25th, 27th, or 29th night, and Shi’a Muslims considering the 19th, 21st, or 23rd night.
Fasting During Ramadan
Fasting is the most significant aspect of Ramadan. Each day, Muslims worldwide rise before dawn to consume a pre-dawn meal called Sahur, Sehri, or Sahari. Afterward, they perform the fajr prayer. Eating and drinking must cease before the call to prayer and resume only after the fourth prayer of the day, Maghrib. At sunset, Muslims break their fast with a meal known as Iftar. They can continue to eat and drink from sunset until the next morning’s fajr prayer call, at which point the cycle repeats.
Ramadan is a period of introspection and worship of God. Muslims are encouraged to follow the teachings of Islam more closely, refraining from indecent or irreligious sights and sounds. Sexual activities during fasting hours are prohibited, and purity in thoughts and actions is paramount. The fast serves as a profound act of personal worship, during which Muslims strive for a heightened sense of closeness to God.
Fasting aims to shift one’s focus away from worldly pursuits, cleansing the soul and protecting it from harm. It also enables Muslims to develop self-discipline, self-control, sacrifice, and empathy for the less fortunate, thereby fostering acts of generosity and charity (Zakat).
Who should observe & who are exempt from fasting:
Muslims typically begin observing the fast once they reach puberty, provided they are healthy, mentally sound, and without disabilities or illnesses. The elderly, chronically ill, and mentally ill are exempt from fasting. However, the first two groups are expected to feed the poor as a substitute for their missed fasting. Pregnant women, menstruating women, and nursing mothers are also exempt, with varying opinions among Islamic scholars about whether they should make up missed days later or feed the poor as compensation. While fasting is not mandatory for children, many choose to participate in the practice to prepare for adulthood. Travelers are also exempt from fasting but must make up missed days.
Hukm for the Elderly and Disabled:
Elderly or disabled individuals with no likelihood of recovery can compensate for missed fasting by covering the cost of Iftar for someone in need or by inviting such a person to dine with them after sunset.
Breaking the fast accidentally:
If someone observing Ramadan unintentionally breaks their fast, they should immediately stop eating or engaging in forbidden activities upon realizing their mistake. This may occur more frequently in the early days of Ramadan before individuals become accustomed to fasting from dawn to dusk.
Ramadan: A Month of Virtues and Blessings:
A well-known hadith states that those who properly observe Ramadan will have all their past sins forgiven. Another hadith states that during Ramadan, the gates of Heaven open, the gates of Hell close, Satan is chained, and jinns are locked away.
Prayers and Qur’an Recitation:
In addition to fasting, Muslims are encouraged to read the entire Qur’an during Ramadan. Many do so through special prayers called Tarawih, held every night at mosques, during which an entire section of the Qur’an (1/30th) is recited. By the end of the month, the entire Qur’an will have been read.
Ramadan is a time for Muslims to focus on self-improvement, spiritual cleansing, and enlightenment, fostering a connection with God through prayer, supplication, charity, good deeds, and compassion. As a festival of giving and sharing, Muslims prepare special foods and gifts for loved ones and the less fortunate. The celebration involves purchasing new clothes, shoes, and other necessities.
A Social Month:
During Ramadan, Muslims gather for Iftar, the evening meal that breaks the fast, and markets often close to allow for prayer and Iftar before reopening for nighttime shopping, eating, and socializing with friends and family.
The Islamic holiday of Eid ul-Fitr signifies the end of Ramadan and the first day of the subsequent month, following the sighting of a new moon. After 29 or 30 days of fasting, the Festival of Breaking the Fast is celebrated with food donations to the poor (Zakat al-fitr), wearing new or best clothes, communal morning prayers, feasting, and visits with family and friends. The Eid prayer consists of two Raka’ahs and is an optional, yet highly recommended, act of worship and gratitude to God.