The image of lanterns is traditionally associated with Ramadan.
Every year Muslims around the world fast, abstaining from water and food, from sunrise to sunset during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar called Ramadan. This year Ramadan will last from June 28 to approximately July 28. Muslims mark the end of Ramadan with a day of celebration called Eid al Fitr. Every day, once the sun has set, Muslims may drink and eat, breaking a fast that can last up to 16 hours in the height of summer here in Ohio. They often break their daily fast with dates, the food the prophet Muhammad, Peace Be upon Him, is thought to have eaten to break his fast.
For many Muslims, Ramadan is a month of spiritual discipline in which they train their souls in self-restraint and mindfulness and refocus their attention upon God. During Ramadan Muslims refrain not just from food and drink but also from bad thoughts, actions, and words.
Special circumstances can exempt a Muslim from fasting. The elderly, sick, those on a journey, or women who are pregnant, nursing, or menstruating may break their fast and make up the lost days when they are healthy and able.
Sarah Taylor, communications intern for CRIS, sat down with two of CRIS’s Muslim staff members to ask them some questions about the month of fasting before them.
Mohamed: A twenty year-old Somali born in Toronto, Canada
Why do you fast for Ramadan?
“It’s part of the five pillars of Islam. In order to be a practicing Muslim you need to have all the pillars in line and one of those is the month of Ramadan.”
What is the purpose of Ramadan?
“Ramadan is the “month that The Holy Quran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessing be upon him. It is a cleansing month after the 11 months preceding in which you might have been sinning and not repenting. Ramadan gives us an opportunity to clean all the bad sins off and gives us a fresh start. After this month you should be a better person who is more closer to God.
Ramadan makes me be appreciative of all bounties that I have been blessed with. I realize these blessings more and in a different light when I’m fasting.”
What is the hardest thing about Ramadan?
“I think the hardest thing is different for each individual. For me, the lack of energy is the hardest.”
“Self-control is also hard. If someone gets you mad, you cannot get angry in return. This is particularly hard if someone is pushing your buttons. You realize a lot of new things about yourself during Ramadan.”
How is it different to experience Ramadan in the US vs. to experience Ramadan in a majority Muslim country?
“Totally different. During Ramadan here [in the US] you work, go home, are tired, and eat. The fasting takes a larger role. When you are abroad you are so busy during the night that you sleep until 3 pm. Since you start your day around 3 pm, you don’t feel the fast. But you still must control your emotions.
“Fasting overseas is more family-driven, you break your fast with your whole family. It’s a nice feeling, sitting around and reminiscing. One year we missed prayer because we were caught up laughing about old stories,” he remembers with a laugh and a shake of his head.
Next I sat down with Fardows, a mother of three who is originally from Somalia and has lived in the US for 17 years.
Fardows, what is the hardest thing about Ramadan for you?
“The beginning first 5 days – cutting off all the caffeine you drink, your body struggles to get used to the lack of water, food, and caffeine. Sometimes you can just forget you’re fasting and drink some water. That day still counts as a day of fasting because you forgot. If you remember while drinking that you are fasting, then you cannot swallow that mouthful of water.”
How is it different to experience Ramadan in the US vs. experiencing Ramadan in a majority Muslim country?
“In Muslim countries, everyone is fasting, so it’s wonderful. We pray more and longer than we normally do with a type of prayer called taraweh. When your neighbors are fasting, you go to Mosque together.” She reminisces with a smile on her face.
“You can hear the call to prayer and wake up to it in the morning. In the US we have none of that. Ramadan is not as exciting. You also have to work throughout the month, instead of being able to take off the whole month of Ramadan to focus on the Quran and fasting.”
These men break their fast collectively.
**For those new to learning about Islam, here is a bit of general information about it.
What is Islam?
Islam is a faith of the Abrahamic tradition – sharing texts like the Old Testament with Christians and Jews, also called the “People of the Book.”
One very important distinction:
Islam is the religion.
A Muslim is a devotee of Islam, just as a Christian is a devotee of Christianity.
The foundational belief and tenants of Islam are summarized in the “Five Pillars.” In no particular order, I have listed them below:
Faith (iman)- Declaration Of Faith
Prayer (salah) – Praying Five daily Prayers
Charity (zakah) – Giving a portion of yearly wealth to the needy or less fortune
Fasting (sawm) – Fasting The month of Ramadan
Pilgrimage (hajj) – Occurs in the 12th month of the Islamic lunar calendar
What is the “call to prayer?”
The “call to prayer,” also called Adhan in Arabic and azan in Somali, is an announcement projected from loudspeakers outside mosques five times per day. It often invokes the Shahada, the Muslim statement of faith, and calls the faithful to pray. The Shahada states: “There is no God worthy of worship but God and Muhammad is last his messenger.”
**Youtube link to the call to prayer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EAvlimEYEpQ
To learn more about Ramadan, follow the links below:
o Time Magazine’s Thirty Days of Ramadan blog:http://time.com/tag/30-days-of-ramadan/
o Introduction to Ramadan:http://islam.about.com/od/ramadan/f/ramadanintro.htm
o An interesting article by a new convert to Islam experiencing Ramadan for the first time:http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/culture/2012/08/confessions-of-a-ramadan-rookie.html