October 11, 2005 > Ramadan, Connecting with the Divine
Ramadan, Connecting with the Divine
by Samina Faheem Sundas
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic Lunar calendar and the holiest month for Muslims. It begins with the sighting of the new moon after which all physically mature and healthy Muslims are obliged to abstain from all food, drink and other worldly pleasures between dawn and sunset. Purity of thought and action is paramount. Ordained in the Quran, the fast is an exacting act of deeply personal worship in which Muslims seek a raised level of God-consciousness. The act of fasting redirects the hearts away from worldly activities, towards The Divine. Muslims are urged to read the entire Qur'an during the month of Ramadan, and its 114 chapters have been divided into 30 equal parts for this purpose.
The month of Ramadan is a time for spiritual reflection, prayer, doing good deeds and spending time with family and friends. The fasting is intended to help teach Muslims self-discipline, self-restraint and generosity. It also reminds them of the suffering of the poor, who may rarely get to eat well.
It is common to have one meal (known as the Suhoor), just before sunrise and another (known as the Iftar), directly after sunset. This meal will commonly consist of dates, following the example of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon Him. Because Ramadan is a time to spend with friends and family, the fast will often be broken by different Muslim families coming together to share in an evening meal.
It is believed that one of the last few odd-numbered nights of the month is the Laylat ul-Qadr, the "Night of Power" or "Night of Destiny." It is the holiest night of the holiest month; it is believed to be the night on which God first began revealing the Qur'an to the Prophet Muhammad through the angel Jibril (Gabriel). This is a time for especially fervent and devoted prayer, and the rewards and blessings associated with such are manifold. Muslims are told in the Qur'an that praying throughout this one night is better than a thousand months of prayer. No one knows exactly which night it is; it is one of God's mysteries.
The end of Ramadan is marked by Eid ul-Fitr, the "Festival of Fast-breaking." It is a joyous time beginning with a special prayer, and accompanied by celebration, socializing, festive meals and sometimes very modest gift-giving, especially to children.
When Ramadan ends, Muslims give charity in a locally prescribed amount, calculated to feed one poor person in that region for one day. This is known as fitra, and is meant as another reminder of the suffering endured by many. Many Muslims also take this occasion to pay the annual alms which are due to the poor and needy, known as Zakah (2.5% of assets).
At the beginning of Ramadan, it is appropriate to wish Muslims "Ramadan Mubarak" which means "Blessed Ramadan." At its conclusion, you may say "Eid Mubarak.
May Allah shower us all with his blessings, iman, joy, health, wealth and peace in our world.
Throughout America Mosques and community centers have organized Iftar dinners to share the blessed month with fellow Americans. Please call your local Mosque or Muslim community center to check the day and time of the Iftar dinner.
Islamic Society of the East Bay: www.iseb.org, 510-429-4732
Council on American-Islamic Relations: www.cair-california.org, 408-986-9874