Muslims around the world began fasting Sunday, May 5, to mark the start of the holy month of Ramadan. For a Muslim, this means waking up early, before the crack of dawn, to eat and pray. This will be a month-long observance where they avoid consuming food from sunrise to sunset and instead focus on prayer and reflection.
Here’s what you should know about Ramadan:
The Five Pillars of Islam
To understand Ramadan, one should first be familiar with the Five Pillars of Islam which are duties that are obligatory for every Muslim. These consist of Shahadah or reciting the Muslim profession of faith, Salat, the act of performing ritual prayers five times each day, Zakat, paying alms to benefit the poor and needy, Sawm, fasting during the month of Ramadan, and Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca.
These are the Pillars that Muslims must devote themselves to doing in order to live a good, faithful, and responsible life, according to Islam.
Sawm, the fourth Pillar
As part of their Five Pillars, Muslims are required to fast during daylight hours of the Ramadan, which is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. This is where the Qur’an was believed to be first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad.
Muslims also believe that during Ramadan, the gates of Heaven are open, the gates of Hell are closed and the devils are chained up in Hell. This makes it easier for them to do good during the month by giving up bad habits, praying more, and reading the Qur’an.
Eating during Ramadan
Since Muslims should abstain from eating and drinking during daylight hours, they try to eat a large meal called suhur just before dawn. They break the fast by drinking water or eating dates, ensuring that they follow the example of Prophet Muhammad. In the evening, Muslims gather with family over a proper meal called iftar.
Why fasting is important
Fasting allows one to focus more on their spiritual well-being rather than the material and physical needs. During this time, Muslims to learn and reflect on a lot of things including self-discipline not only physically but spiritually as well. Muslims engage in extended prayers, focusing on actions and thoughts and cultivating better self-control and deeper spirituality.
What is practiced and avoided during Ramadan
Aside from fasting or abstaining from food during daylight hours for the entire month, Ramadan is also intended for them to exercise self-control in other areas including sleeping, sexual activity, consumption of alcohol, and smoking. These are all avoided from sunrise to sunset as a means of spiritual purification.
During Ramadan, mosques are filled with worshippers who go to attend long night prayers called Taraweeh Prayers, which usually last for two hours.
Muslims who aren’t fit to fast during Ramadan
Of course, there will be exceptions for those who are too young, pregnant, breastfeeding, or even those who aren’t willing to participate in Ramadan. Those who are old or ill can still choose to forego but they are obligated to practice fidya or the act of feeding one poor person for each day of the missed fast.
Ramadan 2019 and Eid’l Fitr
Ramadan doesn’t have a specific date since it depends on the Islamic lunar calendar. It begins when the new moon is seen, which is why it changes from year to year. This year, Ramadan started on the evening of May 5 and will end on June 3 or June 4, depending on when it started in a particular country.
Eid’l-Fitr is a celebration that marks the end of Ramadan. Muslims celebrate by dressing up and visiting their mosques for prayer. Families and friends also get together for celebratory meals and exchanging of gifts.
Ramadan etiquette for Non-Muslims
Non-Muslims can greet their Muslim friends a “Happy Ramadan” by saying the Arabic greeting “Ramadan Mubarak” which means “Happy Ramadan” or “Ramadan Kareem” which means “Have a generous Ramadan.”
Most importantly it all boils down to one word: respect. Non-Muslims should respect the rituals and practices of their Muslim friends. If they’re on a fast, re-consider inviting them for work lunch or encouraging them to drink with you. Non-Muslims should also accommodate work schedule changes for the entire month.
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