Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Issues in Islam: Ramadan

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Issues in Islam: Ramadan

Article excerpt

Issues in Islam: Ramadan

The Islamic holy month of Ramadan begins in early March 1992, marking the onset of 30 days of fasting and spiritual observance for the world's one billion Muslims. The fast of Ramadan makes up one of the five pillars of the Islamic faith, the five mandatory actions one must perform to be a Muslim. In spite of its comparison to the Roman Catholic tradition of Lent, the fast of Ramadan is a unique experience in the Judeo-Christian-Islamic religious tradition. It is not an attempt to enforce religious asceticism upon the believers, but an effort to unite the religious community through a common awareness of suffering and denial. It is a time to put aside worldly concerns and needs and to focus upon God and one's spiritual well-being.

Promoting Righteousness and Self-Discipline

The month of Ramadan denotes the beginning of the Prophet Muhammad's, peace be upon him, divine mission through the revelations sent down by God through the angel Gabriel. These revelations began in the year 610, but the fast of Ramadan did not become a religious obligation for believers until after the Muslim community at Medina defeated a much larger Meccan force during Ramadan at the Battle of Badr in 624.

The rules and commandments for the fast are spelled out in the second sura of the Qur'an, Al-Suratul Baqara, or the Sura of the Cow, which was revealed to the Prophet, PBUH, at Medina. The Qur'an states that the fast is similar to the traditions of both Christianity and Judaism, and its purpose is to promote righteousness and self-discipline.

The period of fasting during Ramadan lasts from approximately two hours before sunrise until sunset. During this time Muslims may not eat, drink, smoke, or have sexual relations. Failure to observe the fast is a heinous sin, but there are several categories of exemption for the believers. Children under the age of puberty are excused from fasting, as are the elderly and those whose health would be severely damaged by the fast, as well as nursing and pregnant women, individuals traveling 50 miles or more, and insane people unaccountable for their own actions. Women are also forbidden to fast during their menstrual period, and must make up the fast day for day afterwards.

In Islam the hadith, the traditions and deeds of the Prophet, PBUH, have recommended several practices for the believers to follow during Ramadan. Muslims are encouraged to have a light meal, known in Arabic as suhoor, before the pre-dawn fasting period begins, and it is suggested that all meals eaten after sunset be of modest proportion. Muslims also are encouraged to read the Qur'an from cover to cover at least once during the month, and they are enjoined to perform a special set of superogatory prayers known as salaatu tarawih after offering their evening prayers.

It is another tradition of the Prophet, PBUH, to spend the last 10 days of Ramadan praying in the mosque. One of the odd-numbered days during this period marks the anniversary of the night of power, known in Arabic as Laylat Al-Qadr, on which God first spoke to the Prophet, PBUH, through the angel Gabriel. The 97th sura of the Qur'an describes the importance of this night, and it is said that "to be in a state of Worship on this night of power when all the Angels come down is worth more than a thousand Ramadan months of fasting."

Ramadan is a time to put aside worldly concerns and needs and to focus upon God and one's spiritual well-being. …

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