We have entered into the month of Ramadan here in Mali. We notice changes around us everyday in our neighborhood and among our friends. Here are some of the things I’m learning about Ramadan.
What is Ramadan?
Ramadan is the Arabic name for the ninth month in the Islamic calendar.
It is considered one of the holiest Islamic months.
It’s also one of the Five Pillars of Islam. These are five principles which Muslims believe are compulsory acts ordered by God.
Muslims believe that some of the first verses of the Islamic holy book, the Qu’ran, were revealed to the Prophet Muhammad during the month of Ramadan. Extra emphasis is placed on reciting the Qu’ran at this time.
All Muslims are supposed to fast all day every day for 30 days (it starts with the sliver of the new moon appearing). So yesterday was the first day of fasting, ending at sundown. They can eat all they want all night long, but during they day, they must fast from all food and water.
Here’s what a day of fasting during Ramadan is like:
Muslims have a predawn meal called the “suhoor.”
Then, they fast all day until sunset.
At sunset, Muslims break their fast with a sip of water and some dates, the way they believe Mohammad broke his fast more than a thousand years ago.
After sunset prayers, they gather at event halls, mosques or at home with family and friends in a large feast called “iftar.”
Here are some dates for sale at different vendors I’ve noticed this week:
Fasting during Ramadan
Ramadan is a time of spiritual reflection, self-improvement, and heightened devotion and worship. Muslims are expected to put more effort into following the teachings of Islam. The fast (sawm) begins at dawn and ends at sunset. In addition to abstaining from eating and drinking during this time, Muslims abstain from sexual relations and sinful speech and behavior during Ramadan fasting or month.
The act of fasting is said to redirect the heart away from worldly activities, its purpose being to cleanse the soul by freeing it from harmful impurities. Muslims believe that Ramadan teaches them to practice self-discipline, self-control, sacrifice, and empathy for those who are less fortunate, thus encouraging actions of generosity and compulsory charity (zakat).
Muslims also believe fasting helps instill compassion for the food-insecure poor.
Exemptions to fasting include travel, menstruation, severe illness, pregnancy, and breastfeeding. However, many Muslims with medical conditions insist on fasting to satisfy their spiritual needs, although it is not recommended by hadith. Those unable to fast are obligated make up the missed days later.
I visited with a young man today about Ramadan. I asked if he was Muslim. He said yes. I asked if he was celebrating Ramadan and he said he was. “Are you fasting now?” “Yes.” “Is it hard?” (It’s been 109 degrees this week.) He told me that fasting is a spiritual experience. He said, “it’s a matter of faith. If you think about being hungry, you will be hungry. If you think about drinking, you will be thirsty.” He said, “fasting is about faith and Allah, and when you think about that, there is no hunger.”
I told him it’s the same in my religion–we also fast, but we fast once a month for a 24 hour period. We also give money to the poor after we fast.
This young man was honest and truthful and had a gentle face. I felt my water bottle with what was left of the ice in it next to me, sweating a bit of coolness through the bag at my side. I asked, “Are you thirsty?” “Yes,” he replied, “but I have faith, so I manage.”