The instant expert: A primer on Ramadan

Some of the traditions and practices of the holy month.

THE BASICS... Ramadan is the greatest religious observance in Islam. It is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, a time when Muslims worldwide abstain from food, drink and other physical needs during daylight hours.

... AND SO MUCH MORE Ramadan is much more, however, than just not eating or drinking - or, for that matter, a lavish breaking of the fast with an evening celebration, the iftar. It is a holy month of worship and contemplation, a time to purify the soul, refocus on one's relationship with Allah and practise self-sacrifice and charity.

THE REVELATION According to Islamic tradition, the month of Ramadan is when Allah revealed the first verses of the Quran to the Prophet Mohammed. Thus, Muslims read one-thirtieth of the holy book during the evening prayer each night of Ramadan. By the end of the month, then, the whole Quran has been recited.

THE FIVE PILLARS Fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam, central duties required of all Muslim (regardless of where they live or what sect they belong to) that strengthen their faith and their service to Allah. The other four are the testimony of faith, prayer, almsgiving and pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca.

THE IFTAR After the daylight hours without food, drink or smoking, the Ramadan fast is broken with prayer and a meal called the iftar. It may be as simple as dates and juice, or a lavish, multi-course meal in special tents.

THE SUHOOR Before the day's fast begins at sunrise, Muslims consume an early morning meal, the suhoor. As you might expect, it typically tends to be heavy, to help stave off the crankiness or weariness caused by the fast.

MOONWATCHERS The dates of Ramadan vary from year to year, because of the nature of the Islamic lunar calendar. The traditional method is to sight with the naked eye the slight crescent moon that marks the beginning of the month. If one sees it at night, the next day is the first day of Ramadan. This year, Ramadan is expected to begin on or around August 1 and to end on or around August 29.

A POWERFUL NIGHT The night that Allah sent the first revelation to the Prophet Mohammed is especially meaningful and sacred. This Night of Power (Laylat Al Qadr)occurs during the last 10 days of Ramadan, particularly on one of the odd nights (the 23rd, 25th or 27th, commonly). The Quran describes it as more valuable than a thousand months. Thus, many Muslims spend the final 10 days in extra worship.

ZAKAT One of the five pillars, zakat is from the Arabic word that means both "to purify" and "to grow". The practice of almsgiving can be performed any time during the year, though many Muslims prefer to pay it during Ramadan. Those who have wealth remaining over the year, after meeting their own basic needs, are obligated to pay a percentage to help others. Zakat acts by charitable organisations are common during Ramadan; the Khalifa bin Zayed Humanitarian Foundation in the UAE, for example, has shipped 160 tonnes of dates to Arab and Muslim beneficiaries in 11 countries. It also is distributing half a million food parcels in 45 countries.

A MATTER OF RESPECT More than ever, Ramadan requires non-Muslims in Islamic countries to watch their behaviour. Eating, drinking or smoking in public are to be avoided, and could even land one in jail. Many hotel restaurants put up screens in front of their dining areas, so those who are not fasting cannot be seen by those who are.


Eid Al Fitr

Eid Al Fitr, also known as "little Eid" and not to be confused with "big Eid" Eid Al Adha, is a three-day holiday that marks the end of Ramadan.

The word Eid means "festivity", and Fitr means "original nature", the implication being that at the end of Ramadan one is restored to one's purest form. The term also references the breaking of the fast, or returning to eating as one does normally.

The common greeting during Eid is "Eid mubarak", or "Blessed festival".

It is haram to fast during Eid and believers traditionally take a small breakfast consisting of something sweet, such as dates, before the salah, the Eid prayer.

After the khutbah (sermon) of Eid and prayers, it is traditional to visit friends and relatives to celebrate Eid together.

In the UAE, parents and older relations will give children and younger relatives money - preferably new bank notes - during Eid, representing a return to the material world as well as love for their young ones. Eid gifts also are often given to other friends and relatives.

Muslims commonly invest in "Eid outfits", again as this is a time for material renewal following the spiritual one.

Sending greeting cards wishing one a happy Eid is another tradition.

Published: July 27, 2011 04:00 AM


Editor's Picks
Sign up to:

* Please select one