Ramadan is here! It is that time of the year when roughly one fifth of the world population who practice Islam embark on a month-long spiritual purification journey through a process known as Sawm or Fasting.
Fasting is the fourth of the Five Pillars that Islam is based on. Fasting in the month of Ramadan is mandatory upon all able-bodied Muslims who reached the age of puberty, who are neither sick nor traveling long distance. This religious ritual is observed from sunrise to sunset.
The month of Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. It is when the Holy Qur’an “was sent down from heaven” and descended upon the Prophet Mohammed as a holy revelation (2:185). Qura’n in Arabic means “the recitation”- in reference to the literal message of God being recited to Mohammed through the Arch Angel Gabriel. The Qur’an is considered the missing link that completes all of God’s messages that were sent in the form of piecemeal since the creation of the first man. It is ” a guidance to mankind; and an eloquent declaration of direction, good judgment, and means of Salvation” (2:185).
In addition to fasting from the physical wants and needs such as food, drink, smoking, etc., Muslims are prescribed to avoid any form of self-indulgence and are to devote their days and nights during that holy month in remembrance, glorification, and worship of Allah (God, The Creator of All things, The Lord of the Worlds- both the spiritual and the material).
They are to engage in a holistic spiritual and physical self-discipline that is expressed through willful rejection of all temptations and abominations such as lustful thoughts and sexual desires, gossiping and backbiting, coveting and scorning, getting angry and or seeking revenge.
Ramadan is a time of reinforcing and enhancing one’s Taqwa or level of God-consciousness, which, in Islam, is the yardstick to measure the status or the nobility of the human being.
In his or her quest to attain God-consciousness, the Muslim individual performs the highest level of Jihad-Al-Nafs (a struggle to tame ones own self). He or she would only engage in that which pleases his Creator and would refrain from all that which may displease Him.
Ramadan is a time of introspection and self-evaluation. It is time to remember and help those who are less fortunate; a time to seek forgiveness and forgive others; a time to express love and to rejuvenate family and friendship ties; a time for community outreach; a time to foster understanding and to appreciate the solidarity and support offered by other faith-groups. Since 9/11, it became common to see Non-Muslims joining their Muslim colleagues, classmates, neighbors in “empathy-fasting” to express their solidarity and support.
The month of Ramadan follows the lunar calendar, and as such, is not perpetually set on a particular date in the AD calendar. So this year, Ramadan would start either the 4th or the 5th of October depending on the sight of the new moon!
The new moon or the crescent must be sighted by, at least, one mature individual who is known to be credible and sane before it is officially announced to the rest of that community, hence the world, that fasting would start the following day. The geographical area in which the sighting took place does not matter, though in some Diaspora Muslim communities they may depend on their own local moon-sighting committee and not start fasting till they could ascertain the sighting locally.
Every year, local Muslims around the world invite Non-Muslims to share a collective Iftar- evening feast to break the Fasting- where they share a wide range of ethnic cuisines.