November 6th marks the first day of the Islamic lunar month; Ramadan, when Canadian Muslims join the Umma (The Muslim Nation) in fasting during the days and praying during the nights.
Ramadan is considered a spiritual training month for the rest of the year, when believers try to draw nearer to their Maker. Prophet Muhammad said; “Ramadan is the month of endurance and the reward of endurance is paradise. It is the month of sharing with others, and a month in which God’s blessings to believers are multiplied.”
During Ramadan Muslims totally abstain from eating, drinking, smoking and sexual activity with one’s spouse everyday from dawn until sunset. During the winter months dawn is around 5:30 am and sunset is around 5:00 pm. After breaking their fast, Muslims spend every night in prayers, especially congregational prayers at mosques. Prophet Muhammad said; “Whoever fasts and prays during Ramadan with sincerity and only for the sake of God Almighty, his/her sins will be forgiven.”
The predawn meal (su-hoor) during Ramadan replaces the ordinary breakfast. The fast breaking meal (Iftar) usually starts with eating a few dates, drinking a glass of water or juice. Following fast breaking, Muslims perform the evening prayer (Magreb) which is followed by the main meal. The main meal should be simple. According to Prophet Muhammad’s teaching; “If you must fill up your stomach, then fill 1/3 of it with food, 1/3 with water and leave 1/3 of it empty.”
Ramadan is a time of heightened attention to the rules of right conduct. For example, the Prophet said; ” Five things break the fast; lying, backbiting, slander, ungodly oath and looking with passion.” In other words, during fasting when certain normally permitted acts are forbidden, acts that are always forbidden ruin a person’s fast.
All Muslims who have reached the age of puberty are required to fast, although there are several valid excuses for not fasting, such as illness, pregnancy, hard manual labor and travel. Missed fasting needs to be made up at another time, at the discretion of the person before the next Ramadan. Children, specially the older ones, are often allowed to fast for a few hours during the day.
Fast is the one ritual that is strictly between the individual and the Creator. God, and only God knows whether or not a person observes the fast. It is a test of people’s sincerity in their faith. Other rituals, such as praying, going to mosques, giving to the poor or performing pilgrimage are usually observed by others. Hence, Ramadan is considered to be the most personal and spiritual month of the Islamic calendar.
Ramadan has also a strong social component. In Islamic countries , all places of eating are closed during the daylight hours of Ramadan. In Canada, as well as in Islamic countries, Muslims usually break their fast with families and friends. They also help needy Muslims by offering them meals for breaking their fast or money equivalents.
Those who have not experienced the fast of Ramadan may think it is easy to skip breakfast and lunch, specially when Ramadan falls during the winter when the day is short. But what about that midmorning cup of coffee or that afternoon smoke? It may be easy for one day, one week. But what about one month? Unless people have strong faith, they are not likely to make it through for the whole month.
But to suggest that fasting during Ramadan is difficult does not mean that Muslims find it to be a hardship. On the contrary, Ramadan tends to be the happiest time of the year. It offers believers an opportunity to strengthen their spirituality; through fasting, praying, reading Quran and contemplating.
Many Muslims stay up during the last ten nights of Ramadan at mosques in continuous prayers, praising the One All-Mighty All-Loving. The sweetness of these night prayers; when nature is calm and the hassle of life subsides, are matchless.
The night of the 27th of Ramadan marks the night that God Almighty started revealing the Quran to Prophet Muhammad more than 1400 years ago. This night, the Quran states, is “better than a thousand months” as God offers more of His love, blessings, mercy, forgiveness and bounties. It is a night when Muslims pray that God’s love and guidance fill the hearts of His servants.
Muslims ends their month-long spiritual journey of Ramadan with a feast of thanksgivings; Eid-ul-Fitr on December 5th, when they praise the Lord that they were blessed with witnessing the blessed month and they pray that it will not be the last Ramadan for any of them.
Prof. Mohamed Elmasry is a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Waterloo and national president of the Canadian Islamic Congress.