Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, is observed by Muslims worldwide as a month of fasting to commemorate the first revelation of the Quran to Muhammed according to Islamic belief. This annual observance is regarded as one of the five Pillars of Islam. The month lasts 29-30 days, based on the visual sightings of the crescent moon, according to numerous biographical accounts compiled in the hadiths.
The word Ramadan comes from the Arabic root ramida or ar- ramad, which means scorching heat or dryness. Fasting is fardh ( obligatory ) for adult Muslims, except those who are suffering from an illness, traveling, an elderly, pregnant, breastfeeding, diabetic or going through menstrual bleeding. Fasting the month of Ramadan was made obligatory ( wajib ) during the month of sha'ban, in the 2nd year after the Muslims migrated from Mecca to Medina. While fasting from dawn until sunset, Muslims refrain from consuming food, drinking liquids, smoking, and engaging in sexual relations. Muslims are also instructed to refrain from sinful behavior that may negate the reward of fasting, such as false speech ( insulting, backbiting, cursing, lying, etc.) and fighting. Food and drinks are served daily, before dawn and after sunset. Spiritual rewards ( thawab ) for fasting are also believed to be multiplied within the month of Ramadan. Fasting for Muslims during Ramadan typically includes the increased offering of salat ( prayers ) and recitation of the Quran.
The month of Ramadan is that in which was revealed the Quran; a guidance for mankind. It is believed that the Quran was first revealed to Muhammed during the month of Ramadan which has been referred to as the " best of times ". The first revelation was sent down on Laylat al- Qadr ( the night of prayer ) which is one of the five odd nights of the last ten days of Ramadan. According to Hadith , all holy scriptures were sent down during Ramadan.
According to the Quran, fasting was also obligatory for prior nations, and is a way to attain taqwa, fear of God. God proclaimed to Prophet Muhammed that fasting for His sake was not a new innovation in monotheism, but rather an obligation practiced by those truly devoted to the oneness of God.
The ruling to observe fasting during Ramadan was sent down 18 months after Hijra, during the month of Sha'ban in the second year of Hijra in 624 CE.
The beginning and end of Ramadan are determined by the lunar Islamic calender.
Since the new moon marks the beginning of the new month, Muslims can usually safely estimate the beginning of Ramadan. The consistent variations of a day have existed since the time of Prophet Muhammed.
Night of Power
Laylat al- Qadr, which in Arabic means " the night of power " or " the night of decree " is considered the holiest night of the year. This is the night in which Muslims believe the first revelation of the Quran was sent down to Muhammed stating that this night was " better than one thousand months ( of proper worships ).
Also, generally, Laylat al- Qadr is believed to have occurred on an odd- numbered night during the last 10 days of Ramadan, I.e., the night of the 21st, 23rd, 25th, 27th or 29th.
The holiday of Eid al- Fitr marks the end of Ramadan and the beginning of the next lunar month, shawwal. The first day of the following month is declared after another crescent new moon has been sighted or the completion of 30 days of fasting if no visual sighting is possible due to weather conditions. The first day of shawwal is called Eid al- Fitr. Eid al- Fitr may also be a reference towards the positive nature of having endured the month of fasting successfully and returning to the more natural disposition of being able to eat, drink and resume intimacy with spouses.
The common practice during Ramadan is fasting from dawn to sunset. The predawn meal before the fast is called the suhur, which the meal at sunset that breaks the fast is the Iftar. Considering the high diversity of the global Muslim population, it is impossible to describe typical suhur or Iftar meals. Muslims also engage in increased prayer and charity during Ramadan. Muslims try to practice increased self discipline. This is motivated by Hadith, especially in Al- Bukhari and that " when Ramadan arrives, the gates of Paradise are opened and the gates of hell are locked up and devils are put in chains.
Ramadan is a time of spiritual reflection, improvement and increased devotion and worship. Muslims are expected to put more effort into the teachings of Islam. The fast begins at dawn and ends at sunset. In addition to abstaining from eating and drinking, Muslims also increase restraint, such as abstaining from sexual relations and generally sinful speech and behavior. The act of fasting is said to redirect the heart away from worldly activities, it's purpose being to change the soul by freeing it from harmful impurities. Ramadan also teaches Muslims how to better practice self- discipline, self- control, sacrifice, and empathy for those who are less fortunate; thus encouraging actions of generosity and compulsory charity ( zakat ).
It becomes compulsory for Muslims to start fasting when they reach puberty, so long as they are healthy and sane, and have no disabilities or illness. Many children endeavor to complete as many fasts as possible as practice for later life. Exemptions to fasting are travel, menstruation, severe illness, pregnancy, and breast feeding. However, many Muslims with medical conditions insist on fasting to satisfy their spiritual needs, although it is not recommended by the Hadith. Professionals should closely monitor such individuals who decide to persist with fasting.
Each day, before dawn, Muslims observe a pre- fast meal called the suhur. After stopping a short time before dawn, Muslims begin the first prayer of the day, Fajr. At sunset, families hasten for the first- breaking meal known as Iftar.
In the evening, dates are usually the first food to break the fast; according to tradition, the Prophet Muhammed broke fast with three dates. Following that, Muslims generally adjourn for the Magrib prayer, the fourth of the five daily prayers, after which the main meal is served.
Social gatherings, many times in a buffet style, are frequent at Iftar. Traditional dishes are often highlighted, including traditional desserts, and particularly those made only during Ramadan. Water is usually the beverage of choice, but juice, and milk are also often available, as are soft drinks and caffeinated beverages.
Over time, Iftar has grown into banquet festivals. This is a time of fellowship with families, friends and surrounding communities, may also larger spaces at masjid or banquet halls for 100 or more dinners.
Charity is very important in Islam, and even more so during Ramadan. Zakat, is obligatory as one of the pillars of Islam; a fixed percentage of the person's savings is required to be given to the poor, sadaqah is voluntary charity in giving above and beyond what is required from the obligation of Zakat. In Islam, all good deeds are more handsomely rewarded during Ramadan than in any other month of the year. Consequently, many will chose this time to give a larger portion of Sadaqah in order to maximize the reward that will await them at the last judgement.
Tarawih refers to extra prayers performed by Muslims at night in the Islamic month of Ramadan. Contrary to popular belief, they are not compulsory. However, many Muslims pray these prayers in the evening during Ramadan. Some scholars maintain that Tarawih is neither fardh or a sunnah, but is the preponed Tahajjud ( night prayer ) prayer shifted to post- Isha' for the ease of believers. But a majority of Sunni scholars regard the Tarawih prayers as sunnat al- Muakkadah, a salaat that was performed by the prophet Muhammed very consistently.
In addition to fasting, Muslims are encouraged to read the entire Quran. Some Muslims perform the recitation of the entire Quran by means of special prayers, called Tarawih. These voluntary prayers are held in the mosques every night of the month, during which a whole section of the Quran ( juz, which is 1/30 of the Quran ) is recited.
Therefore, the entire Quran would be completed at the end of the month. Although it is not required to read whole Quran in the Tarawih prayers, it is common.
Ramadan fasting is safe for healthy people, but those with medical conditions should seek medical advice. The fasting period is usually associated with modest weight loss, but the weight tends to return afterwards.
A review of the literature by an Iranian group suggested fasting Ramadan might produce renal injury in patients with moderate ( GFR <60 ml/min ) or worse kidney disease, but was not injurious to renal transplant patients with good function or most stone forming patients.
The correlation of Ramadan with crime rates is mixed; some statistics show that crime rates drop during Ramadan, while others show that it rises.
Ramadan in polar regions
The length of the dawn to sunset time varies in different parts of the world according to summer or winter solstices of the sun. Most Muslims fast for 11-16 hours during Ramadan. However in polar regions, the period between dawn and sunset may exceed 22 hours in summer.
Employment during Ramadan
Muslims will continue to work during Ramadan. The prophet Muhammed said that it is important to keep a balance between worship and work.
Prof. A. K. M. Aminul Hoque
Formerly Prof. of Medicine
Dhaka Medical College