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October 12, 2004 > Ramadan, a Month of Self Restraint and Reflection for Muslims

Ramadan, a Month of Self Restraint and Reflection for Muslims

by Reshma Yunus

Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, is expected to begin on October 15 or October 16th of 2004, depending on when the new moon is sighted. Muslims in the Tri-city area and the world over, will awaken, bleary eyed, before the crack of dawn to grab a bite to eat and some water to drink to sustain them through out the day-long fast. Fasting in the month of Ramadan means abstaining from food, water, caffeine, cigarettes and most sensual pleasures from dawn until sunset for the entire month. At the end of the day, at sunset, which is around 5:10 p.m. in this area, Muslims are allowed to break the fast (a ritual called Iftaar).

The primary purpose of the fast is to learn self-restraint and discipline and to actively demonstrate faith by giving up, for a time, worldly pleasures. The Quran states "O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that ye may (learn) self-restraint...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..." (Chapter 2, verses 183 and 185)." Friends and I have often marveled at the fact that we couldn't stick to a diet if our life depended on it and yet, we are able to pass up the most delicious food when we are fasting.

Discipline and the exercise of faith are not the only character building attributes that a month of mandated fasting teaches. The constant gnawing in the pit of the stomach from hunger, the fatigue from lack of nourishment are reminders for those who fast that for many poor people the world over, this is what it feels like every day. Fasting enables one to not merely sympathize but actively empathize with those who are forced to go hungry, not just during the daylight hours, but 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Accordingly, many Muslims, use the blessed month for almsgiving and charity. Contributing a percentage of one's income is another required aspect of the faith and Muslims believe that it is best to give the most during this holy month. Ramadan is a time for community building and many individuals sponsor evening iftaar get-togethers as iftaar tastes especially good in the company of friends and family. Many masjids (mosques) hold open house iftaars that anyone can experience. (See contact information on local masjids below).

Most fasts are opened with dates and water, following the example of the Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) 1400 years ago. Thereafter, it takes on the flavor or the region of those who are fasting. South Asians usually enjoy pakoras (fried vegetable fritters), samosas (meat- or vegetable-filled pastries), or cholay (seasoned garbanzo beans. In our family, having grown up here, we would include our favorite candy bars along with plenty of water, juices, and chocolate chip cookies. Plenty of caffeine is also consumed. Then the sunset prayers are offered. Thereafter people eat dinner and then about an hour and half later, most go to the local masjid to attend congregational prayers called Taraweeh which are offered only during this month.

The end of the month of Ramadan is marked by celebration called "Eid -ul-Fitr" or the Feast of the breaking of the Fast. Eid-ul-Fitr actually marks the first day of Shawwaal, the tenth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. This day is expected either on November 12th or 13th, depending the sighting of the new moon. Muslims celebrate this joyous day by wearing new clothes, participating in communal prayers, eating regional dishes and exchanging gifts. Local masjids have prayer programs and some sponsor all day celebrations.

You can contact the following local masjids for further information:
Islamic Society of The East Bay: 33330 Peace Terrace, Fremont, CA 94555
Phone: (510) 429-4732
Islamic Center of Fremont: 4039 Irvington Avenue, Fremont CA 94538
Phone: (510) 661-0352

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