Ramadan – Understanding the true spirit of the fasting month

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Understanding true spirit of the fasting month
By Samir Salama, Bureau Chief GULF NEWS Published: September 10, 2007, 00:16

Abu Dhabi: Feasting their eyes on cuisine on dinner tables during Ramadan shows how far removed Muslims are from the true spirit of this holy month.

The month of fasting is in fact a time of giving, patience and tolerance for Muslims.

For more than a billion Muslims around the world, it should be the time for devotion to God and self-restraint, when communal nightly prayers are conducted and the basic teachings of Islam are emphasised and Ummah (Islamic nation) consciousness is heightened.

As the ninth month of the lunar Islamic calendar, Ramadan comes 11 days earlier each year on the Gregorian calendar and the duration of the fast changes depending on which season the holy month falls in.

The start of Ramadan, as that of all Islamic months, is based on the sighting of the new moon, the hilal, which is why the crescent is often used as an unofficial symbol of the month. The moon sighting is also the reason that the start of Ramadan differs from one country to another, but many opt to follow Saudi Arabian sightings to be able to mark the holy days together.

Five pillars
As one of the five pillars of Islam, fasting during Ramadan, which is considered one of the highest forms of worship, is obligatory for those Muslims past the age of puberty who are mentally and physically fit and not travelling, as long as it does not cause them physical or mental harm.

Those who cannot fast during Ramadan, owing to health or other reasons, may fast in other months, or feed the poor.

But a Ramadan fast is not a simple abstention from food, drink and sex during daylight hours.

A fast consists of a true and verbal intention that must be recited, as well as a package of dos and don’ts which are specifically emphasised during the month.

Fasting, or sawm (literally refrain), which did not become obligatory until 624 AD, offers an opportunity for Muslims to cleanse the body and mind.

It promotes the principle of sincerity by keeping the individual away from arrogance.

Among the greatest benefits is the lesson in self-restraint and discipline that could be carried forward to other aspects of a person’s life, such as work and education.

The lengthy nightly prayer called Taraweeh is an important element of rituals during the month.

Since it is a time of piety and high religious consciousness, it would be considerate for non-Muslims to dress and behave modestly, avoiding animated behaviour that could cause offence.

Those who want to understand the holy month better could consider involving themselves in the spirit of the month, which would be welcomed by most Muslims. Saying ‘Ramadan Kareem’ to Muslims and attending a fast-breaking feast, or iftar, would be appreciated by most.

Work hours in the private sector are shortened by two hours for Muslims and non-Muslims. The public sector will function from 9am to 3pm.

Live music is banned through the month.

Shopping malls and supermarkets are expected to be open late at night.

A typical day

A typical day of fasting begins with waking up before dawn to have a meal called the suhoor before the start of the fasting day. At sunset, Muslims usually break their fast upon the call for Maghreb (sunset) prayers with another meal called iftar. Prayers are conducted five times through the day, as they are on all days, and an extra set of prayers called Taraweeh is conducted after Isha or night prayers.

Tips for non-Muslims
Since it is a time of piety and high religious consciousness, it would be considerate to dress and behave modestly, avoiding animated behaviour that could cause offence.

Those who want to understand the holy month better could consider involving themselves in the spirit of the month, which would be welcomed by most Muslims. Saying ‘Ramadan Kareem’ to Muslims and attending a fast-breaking feast, or iftar, would be appreciated by most.

Since cultural consciousness is also high during the month, Ramadan can be a good time to connect with the local and Muslim cultural scene by attending the various musical and social events, as well as trying local and regional cuisine that is popular during the month of fasting.

Arabic speaking non-Muslims wishing to learn more about the region and its people will notice that Arabic television channels change their programming to a new schedule dedicated for Ramadan, when some of the most popular celebrities in the Arab world feature in some of the most-watched soap operas, historic series, as well as religious, cultural and musical shows.

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