Ramadan, which is the 9th month of the Muslim lunar calendar, is a month of fasting as prescribed for Muslims in the Qur’an.  This sacred month for Muslims marks a time where Muslims around the globe partake in fasting, alms giving, late night prayers, and reading Qur’an.  Ramadan is one of the 5 pillars of Islam.

The word Ramadan comes from the Arabic root ramiḍa or ar-ramad which means scorching heat or dryness.  The month of Ramadan generally lasts 28-30 days depending upon the lunar cycle.  As a result, Ramadan generally starts 9 days earlier than in the preceding year.  The observant Muslim will abstain from all food, drink, and sex from sun up to sun down and consciously work to improve their character.  This involves making an effort to abstain from sinful behavior such as backbiting, slander, cursing, and fighting.

Only healthy adult Muslims must fast during the month of Ramadan.  If someone is ill, pregnant, on their monthly, or a child then it is not required to fast during Ramadan.  If a person is unable to make up days that they missed due to health reasons then they can feed poor people after the month is over to make up for lost days.

At the end of Ramadan, Muslims give 2.5% of their wealth acquired since the previous year to charity.  This is called Zakat.  The community leader will generally take the zakat and give it out to needy Muslims.

A typical day in Ramadan starts by the individual getting up in the middle of the night to eat Suhur or breakfast.  This has to be completed before the dawn prayer, prior to the first light of the sun on the horizon.  After this, the individual will fast until the sun begins to set.  The fast is typically broken by a traditional custom from the days of the prophet- eating dates and drinking water.  After breaking the fast, the individual will pray Maghrib prayer.  After Maghrib prayer it is customary to sit down for a full dinner with ones friends and family.    

 The nighttime prayer of Isha is performed shortly after the completion of dinner.  It is generally followed by a non compulsory prayer called Tarawih prayer.  Tarawih prayer is offered only in the month of Ramadan.  Its significance is that it breaks the Quran into smaller sections that are recited over the course of the 28-30 days of Ramadan.  The intent is to cover the Quran in a group setting over the course of the holy month. 

 The last ten nights of Ramadan are prescribed as being especially significant.  The amount of blessings conferred upon those who pray during these last ten nights is even more than normal.  It is customary to spend some period of consistent time inside of the mosque during these last ten nights.   During these last ten nights, there is one night in particular which is deemed the “Night of Power” or Lailatul Qadr in Arabic.  It is believed to hold the powers of forgiveness and blessing 1000x more than any other night or time of the year.   As a result, Muslims all over the world aspire to spend as much of this night praying as possible.  The popular opinion is that it is most likely this Night of Power is on one of the odd nights of the last ten, with most traditions believing it to be the 27th night in particular. 

Lailtul-Qadr or the Night of Power is the night that Muslims believe that the early ayats or verses of the Qur’an was revealed.  It is believed that the Qur’an was first revealed during the month of Ramadan.  On the Night of Power, it is believed by Muslims that Allah blesses everyone, forgives all sins, grants all prayers, and that the angels will come down to Earth.  Also it is believed that Allah descends into the lower heavens.

So what is the purpose of Ramadan?  What are the spiritual benefits that Muslims seek to obtain by performing Ramadan?

The essence of Ramadan is about reconnecting with our Lord, to reconnect with Allah.  To use the rope that Allah has given us to reconnect with which is the Qur’an.  The Prophet Muhammad said that the unbreakable rope to Allah is the Qur’an.  So part of the covenant with Allah during Ramadan is to return to the book of Allah, and to discipline ourselves to read it and reflecting upon its meaning. 

Ramadan is also a time to reckon oneself and to do a reckoning of one self.  This involves questions like, “What have we done in the past year, and what will we do in the upcoming year?”

Muslims believe that this is not just the way of the Prophet Muhammad, but that this is also the way of previous prophets such as Abraham, Moses, David, John the Baptist, and Jesus.  It is believed by Muslims that this is the way of all prophetic traditions.  So by doing this we are walking in the paths of the Prophets, this is the well-trodden path, that this has always been the way of those closest to God.

So when we are fasting it is believed that we are sharing and partaking in a discipline that every seeker of God in the past of any prophetic tradition has done. We are connecting ourselves to an unbroken chain of tradition in connecting ourselves in a deep and sacred bond with every seeker of God from the beginning of time to the end of time.  That we are connected with them in this sacred search to allow ourselves to be rescued by Allah, so that is why this is a blessed month for people to take the most benefit as they can and not to be distracted.  So we should be doing less watching television and more reading the Qur’an. 

Muslims use this time to discipline the tongue and the heart.  To refrain from negativity by remembering their creator.  Imam Ghazali said, “The real fasting is not the fasting of the stomach, but the real fasting is that of the heart.”   This allows us to prevent our heart from feasting on prohibited thoughts and concerns like doubt, fear, and anxiety about provisions where they will come from?  This means that one does not trust in God, so they let these feelings of fear go.

One of the things about the modern world is that it is a fear-based world.  There are all of these demons out there trying to scare people.  Scare them about their provision, scare them about this and that.  You can lose your job, you can lose your wealth.  Indeed you can lose it all but if you have Allah you have not lost anything, because just as the poet Rumi said, “Everything you desire exists with Allah so seek Allah and you will get everything you desire”.

This is an important concept to remember when our world is in the current state that it is in.  Seems like everything is hopeless.  You turn on the news and there is always another terrorist attack or mass-murder.  Police are no longer trusted but seen as combatants of the citizens of the world.  When we look at the two largest industries it puts the state of our planet into perspective.  The largest industry is intoxicants, and the second largest industry is armaments.  This is meant to keep people in a state of stupor while they are giving them the means to destroy themselves. 

We break ourselves from this madness by fasting, disciplining ourselves, and refusing ourselves to react in the reactionary modes entering into the obsessive-compulsive demands of the self.  Take this, you need this, I have to have this, I must have this.  We as Muslims use the fast to reject on all of that and saying that, “I trust in Allah”.  This is what Ramadan is about, trusting in Allah.


Steven Pearce

Steven Pearce has studied Grand Mosque of Zaytuna in Tunisia and specialized in topics regarding Islamophobia.

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