Ramadan: Food for the soul

On Saturday, October 16, one million Muslims in South Africa together, with a billion Muslims around the world will begin the month-long fast of Ramadaan.

Ramadan is the ninth month on the Islamic lunar calendar during which Muslims abstain from food, drink and marital relations from break of dawn to sunset. The fast is performed to learn discipline, self-restraint and generosity, while obeying God’s commandments. Fasting (along with the declaration of faith, 5 daily prayers, charity [zakaat], and pilgrimage to Mecca) is one of the “five pillars” of Islam.

Fasting is also for those who want to improve themselves – improve their bodies, their emotions, their mentality, their morality and their spirituality. It is an extraordinary educational experience that covers social, hygienic, economic and spiritual dimensions. One of the main reasons that Muslims fast is so that they can empathize with the poor and needy, and during Ramadaan South African Muslims give abundantly, both materially and spiritually.

Local Muslim organisations have taken the lead in addressing humanitarian needs locally and abroad. Crescent of Hope, Islamic Relief, the Islamic Medical Association of South Africa, the Gift of the Givers Foundation; and Africa Muslims Agency have helped Muslims and non-Muslims alike in times of conflict, natural disasters, and political upheaval. Several tons of essential supplies were recently sent to Darfur by the latter two.

South African Muslims have always contributed to good causes, and it is during the fasting period that Muslims distribute their obligatory zakaat [ approximately 2% of one’s wealth in excess] to the less fortunate. Many Islamic organisations begin their work in advance of Ramadaan, in order to raise funds and help feed poor Muslims.

Sometimes, individuals take it upon themselves to prepare and distribute food for the less fortunate. All in all, it is a time when most Muslims reflect on their good fortune, and assist the destitute both here and abroad.

For all the ideological differences that may exist among Muslims in South Africa, the fast of Ramadaan truly unites the community here. Muslims tend to live in high concentrations in certain areas, and with whole areas fasting; neighbourliness and brotherhood run high as Muslims are united by their rumbling tummies! This year, many students will be writing their final exams while fasting: a daunting thought when one considers the heat and length of the fast here (over 14 hours).

Mosques are packed at his time and the Taraweeh prayer is performed daily in every single mosque in the country. At home, women perform Taraweeh on their own. Cinemas and theatres are deserted, as recitation of the Holy Qu’ran becomes one of the central activities of the month. The graveyards are also well-visited during the month, and many prayers are said for the deceased.

The festival of Eid-ul-Fitr signifies the conclusion of the fast and Muslims celebrate this day joyously and take time to visit friends and families. Some Muslims, however, spend the day in orphanages, old-age homes and hospitals visiting those who do not have, or have lost touch with their loved ones. The spirit of Ramadaan is still alive during the Eid celebrations.

As I write this, I reflect on my brothers and sisters in areas like Sudan, Palestine, Kashmir, and Chechnya, where life is constantly about survival, and a hungry stomach is not exclusive to the fast of Ramadaan. At this auspicious time, I pray that Allah Almighty assist all Muslims throughout the world, to overcome whatever challenges they may face. For Muslims in my own country, I just wish that the atmosphere of Ramadaan could prevail throughout the year.

Ramadaan Mubarak to all Muslims everywhere.