So it’s almost the end of Ramadan and I’m finally getting around to writing this post . . .
To all of my Muslim sisters and brothers out there, Ramadan Mubarak! For those who don’t know what that means, it’s kind of like saying “Happy Ramadan,” but the literal translation is something like “Have a blessed Ramadan.”
I want to share some of my thoughts on Ramadan. I hope this will be a help for other Muslims, and a learning experience for those unfamiliar with Ramadan.
Okay so first off, Ramadan is considered the holiest month in the Islamic calendar, which is a lunar calendar. In a lunar calendar, the months are in sync with the moon cycles, so a new moon = a new month (I think this is actually where the word ‘month’ originated from). Ramadan is celebrated as the month in which the Quran was first revealed (it began to be revealed to Prophet Muhammad, pbuh).
There are many ways that Muslims celebrate the month of Ramadan, but the most significant is by the religious obligation to fast from sunrise to sunset every day during this month. It is actually one of the Five Pillars of Faith — a requirement — for Muslims to fast during Ramadan. There are exceptions for people who are ill, weak, old, traveling a long distance, or otherwise physically unable to fast. Children do not need to fast until they reach the age when they become accountable for their actions (in Islam, this is essentially adolescence).
I first heard about Ramadan a few years before I became Muslim. At that time, my only experience with fasting had been the few times I had participated in 30-Hour Famine as a Christian. During those fasts, we could not eat anything, but it was okay for us to drink water, and even juice. So it seemed very strange to me that Muslims were not allowed to eat OR drink anything during their fast. In addition, Muslims to abstaining from food, should also try to be more mindful of their behavior while fasting, and be especially careful not to sin.
The month of Ramadan is meant to be a month of blessings for Muslims. I believe that most things that God requires us of as ‘rules’ are actually good for us. For example, God does need us to fast. But it is required because it is good for us, physically and mentally, and because most of us wouldn’t do it if it were not required. The Quran teaches:
“O you who believe! Prescribed for you is the Fast, as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may deserve God’s protection (against the temptations of your carnal soul) and attain piety.” Quran 2:183
Here are a few examples of how fasting is good for our mind, body, and soul:
- Fasting helps us to learn self-control, patience, and develop will-power
- It helps our spirit to focus and become closer to Allah, since we are not focusing on food
- Focusing on being righteous and doing good deeds. Fasting is a constant reminder of who we are, a constant remembrance of Allah
- Refraining from sins and other unlikeable behavior
- Focusing on being more charitable to those less fortunate
- Fasting is a way for us to experience hunger, so we may remember those we are less fortunate than us.
- We learn not to over-indulge in food; It teaches us to think twice before reaching for snack food or junk food that we do not need to eat
- We can save money on food during Ramadan, and use this money for better purposes
- It is a time for Muslims to come together, to feel their unity; Iftar is often eaten with friends
- Health benefits: weight management, allowing the digestive tract to rest, lowering of blood sugar, lowering of cholesterol, and lowering of systolic blood pressure. There are also recent studies suggesting that lowering your caloric intake may lead to longer life (see this article from the New York Times and this one from Daily Mail)
This year was my third whole Ramadan fasting. Although I was very wary the first time I started fasting a few years ago, I have realized that there are many benefits and blessings that come with giving up a little food. It also tends to get easier as the month progresses– your body gets used to fasting, so to speak, so you may not get as hungry. Actually, I think that as long as you do not over-eat in the morning or evening, your stomach should actually shrink. I have realised that the hardest part of fasting for me is not usually the lack of food, but the lack of water. I am always more thirsty than I am hungry.
There are other things that make Ramadan a blessing, including increased focus on God and your own spiritual welfare. This includes spending more time devoted to God, for example in prayer, reading Quran, reflecting on God, and coming together with other Muslims. During Ramadan there is a special, longer prayer that is not made during other parts of the year: the Taraweeh prayer which is in the evening, and usually falls about 1-2 hours after fast is broken.
As Muslims, we believe that God will multiply our blessings for the fasting and good deeds we perform during Ramadan, which includes donating to charity. Another way to take part in the blessings of Ramadan is by hosting Iftar dinners at your home. Iftar means the meal that breaks the fast. The Prophet Muhammad pbuh is reported as having said “Whoever feeds a fasting person will have a reward like that of the fasting person, without any reduction in his reward” (At-Tirmidhi, authenticated by Al-Abani). For this reason, Muslims who are able like to invite friends to their home throughout the month of Ramadan. I especially enjoy this tradition, since it is nice to come together with other Muslims, and gives a sense of togetherness during this special month.
The ending of Ramadan is bittersweet for many Muslims. It is always a relief to feel that the fasting is over, that you were able to accomplish another month of fasting. But it is also sad to see this blessed month come to an end. This year, the end of Ramadan falls on Thursday August 8 (August 7 is the last full day of fasting). This holiday or Eid is marked by many as a day of celebration, coming together with other Muslims in prayer, festivities and meals at their local mosques or community centers. Children usually receive gifts during this time, especially if they participated in fasting or even attempted to fast for a shorter time.
God willing, Ramadan will leave us all feeling more refreshed, disciplined, and closer to our Creator. So although it’s a little early, I want to say to all of all off my fellow Muslims: Eid Mubarak!