HISTORY OF RAMADAN
HISTORY OF RAMADAN
The word Ramadan originates from the Arabic root ‘ar-ramad' or ‘ramida', which means scorching heat or scarcity of rations. Ramadan is the holy month of fasting as ordained by the Quran for all Muslims who have reached puberty and who are able to keep it, and it is the fourth pillar of Islam. It falls on the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and according to the Quran has been decreed to encourage all Muslims to be pious and charitable. It is a time of meditation, reflection and self-reformation, allowing people to renew and purify their faith. This month is particularly significant in the Islamic calendar as it was in this month that the first chapters of the Quran were revealed to Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings upon him).
"Ramadan is the (month) in which was sent down the Quran, as a guide to mankind, also clear (signs) for guidance and judgment (between right and wrong). So every one of you who is present (at his home) during that month should spend it in fasting."
This month is also momentous for another significant event, the Battle of Badr, which was the first battle between the Muslims of Medina and the pagans of Mecca. It was fought in 624 C.E in present-day Saudi Arabia, with the Muslims gaining victory, and is mentioned in the Quran and recorded in Hadiths.
SUHOOR AND IFTAR
During Ramadan, the fast begins at sunrise, when the "white thread becomes distinct from the black thread," (Al-Baqarah 2:187), and ends at sunset. Most Muslims rise before dawn for an early meal, known as Suhoor. Whilst observing the fast Muslims are forbidden to eat, drink, smoke or take part in sexual intercourse. According to tradition, the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) broke his fast at the end of each day with a date, a custom that is widely practised amongst many Muslims; the meal prepared for ending the fast is known as Iftar and is considered to be a time for families to gather together and break bread.
Although fasting is compulsory there are many who are exempt from observing it. The elderly, the sick, those who are on a journey and women who are pregnant or menstruating are not expected to keep the fast. Because fasting is an act of worship, they are required however, to make up an equal amount of days later in the year. Those who are unable to do so must feed a needy person for each day that has been missed.
"Every one of you who is present (at his home) during that month should spend it in fasting, but if any one is ill, or on a journey, the prescribed period (should be made up) by days later. Allah intends every facility for you; He does not want to put to difficulties."
PRAYER AND ZAKAT
Muslims believe that their good deeds and intentions in the month of Ramadan bring greater rewards than at any other time of the year. This is partly based on the belief that in this month the gates of heaven are opened while the gates of hell remain shut.
"When Ramadan comes, the gates of Paradise are opened and the gates of Hell are closed, and the devils are put in chains."
narrated by Abu Hurayrah
Throughout this month there are long nightly prayers during which lengthy chapters of the Quran known as taraweeh are recited, these prayers, although not compulsory, are greatly recommended. The word taraweeh comes from the Arabic word for rest, as during these prayers worshippers sit for brief periods to rest before resuming their prayer.
Muslims also pay Zakat during the month, which is the third pillar of Islam, requiring Muslims to give to the needy and poor. Those who can afford to pay this generally do so during the month of Ramadan, although Zakat can be paid at any time during the year.
In the last ten days of Ramadan many Muslims go into seclusion, known as Itikaf, for prayer and meditation in the search for Lailut ul-Qadar or the Night of Decree. According to Islam, this is the anniversary of the night that the first verses of the Quran were revealed to Prophet Muhammad (pbuh); it is also believed that on this night their destiny for the following year is decided and many spend this night in supplication to God. The exact date that this night falls on is uncertain, but it is widely agreed that it occurs in the last ten days of the month. To spend this night in payer is considered to be more rewarding than a thousand months of devotion.
The Islamic calendar, which is believed to begin in A.D. 622, is a lunar one. It has twelve lunar months of approximately 354 days and because it is eleven days shorter than the solar year, Islamic holy days tend to shift eleven days earlier each year and corresponds with the Gregorian calendar. The Islamic calendar began the day after the Hijra, the flight of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) from Mecca to Medina. The current Islamic year is 1429.
Rosalind Kerven Ramadan and Eid-ul-Fitr, Evans Brothers, 2004
Picture 1:Eid Mubarak, by khalilshah, Flickr