The Holy Month of Ramadan is observed by Muslims around the world in the ninth month of the Islamic calendar year. It is the month of fasting from dawn to dusk and a time of peace and goodwill marked by prayers, penitence and charity.
The word Ramadan comes from the Arabic root word of ‘ramad’ which means heat or dryness, as the first Ramadan is believed to have been held during the scorching Arabian summer month. Similar to how the sun scorches the earth during the summer, this month is considered a period to scorch away evil, making the name even more symbolic.
The Islamic lunar calendar, which has 12 months that extends to either 29 or 30 days, moves backward approximately 11 days each year in relation to the Gregorian calendar. Accordingly, the first day of the month of Ramadan shifts backward by about 11 days each year from the previous year, and repeats the cycle approximately every 33 years.
The new moon or crescent known as Hilal heralds the start of a new Islamic month of Ramadan,and there are special moon-sighting committees set up in most Muslim countries to catch a glimpse of the Hilal and announce the start of the holy month.
Fasting from dawn (fajr) to dusk (magrib) is ordained on all Muslims, and is one of the five pillars of the Islamic faith. In the Holy Qur’an (Surah Baqarah 2:183) it says: “O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that ye may (learn) self-restraint.” Fasting, or ‘sawm’ as it is known in Arabic, is considered an act of deeply personal worship in which Muslims seek a raised level of closeness to God.
Fasting requires the faithful to refrain from eating or drinking, or engaging in sexual intimacy, negative behavior or thoughts from dawn to dusk. Muslims who observe fasting wake up in the early hours before sunrise, around 4 or 5 in the morning in some places, to eat a hearty meal referred to as the ‘suhoor’ before commencing their day-long fasting. The ‘iftar’ meal, which breaks the fast at sunset, brings the day’s fasting to an end.
Family and friends gather together to break the fast at ‘iftar’ and the meal usually consists of a traditional spread of treats, that includes dates. Many mosques and volunteer organizations provide iftar meals after sundown for the community to come and end their day’s fasting together.
Fidya is the compensation one pays for missing the fasting, or wrongly practicing necessary acts of worship, during the day. As atonement, one has to give up a sum of money, foodstuffs, or sacrifice an animal.
This year, the month of Ramadan will fall between May 5 and June 6, again in the heat of summer, and worshipers are cautioned against dehydration from remaining outdoors for long during the time of their fasting.
When you meet a Muslim during the holy month, the greeting that is usually exchanged is “Ramadan Mubarak”, which means congratulations on the advent month of Ramadan, or “Ramadan Kareem”, which implies may be you be blessed with a generous Ramadan.