Understanding Ramadan's meaning
Ramadan is a time for spiritual reflection, prayer and doing of good deeds. Fasting is intended to inculcate self-discipline, self-restraint and generosity. It is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. It begins with the sighting of the new moon, after which all mature and healthy Muslims are obliged to fast for the complete month. Between dawn and sunset, Muslims abstain from all food, drink, and intimate physical contact even with their spouses, refraining from gossip, lies, obscenity and sinful acts.
Islam is a continuation of the religion of Abraham, Moses and Jesus. Hence, it is not surprising to find references to fasting in Judaism and Christianity. Other faiths also enjoin fasting, as they recognize its spiritual benefits. Fasting is thus universally known as a means of gaining self- discipline and of gaining closeness to God.
It is the third of the Five Pillars of Islam. The others are: declaration of faith (Shahadah), prayer (Salah), charitable-giving (Zakah), and the pilgrimage to Makkah (Hajj). Purity of both thought and action are emphasized whilst fasting. The Prophet (pbuh) also said: “Fasting is not only from food and drink, fasting is to refrain from wrongful acts. It is common to have two meals each day — one before dawn (Suhoor), and another just after sunset (Iftar). The breaking of the fast (Iftar) usually consists of having dates and water following the tradition of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). Ramadan strengthens the community: Muslims invite one another for the Iftar meals, and thereby create concern and friendship among neighbors, families and friends. Many people also take Iftar to the mosque and share it with the wider community, especially the poor and needy.
The sick and those traveling may defer their fast until their illness or journey is over. Pregnant women and nursing mothers may also postpone the fast. The old or ill, who are too weak to fast, are excused from fasting. They may feed a needy person for every day missed, if they can afford to do so.
In Ramadan, Muslims are encouraged to focus as much time as possible on reading, listening to and understanding the teachings of the Glorious Quran. One of the ways Muslims get closer to the Quran during Ramadan is through a long congregational prayer known as Taraweeh that is offered in the late evening after the breaking of the fast. During this prayer it is customary that the entire Quran is recited over the course of the entire month.
Laylat ul-Qadr, or the Night of Power, is a time for especially fervent and devoted prayer, and the rewards and blessings associated with worship on this night are manifold. This night is known to occur during one of the last few nights of Ramadan.
Eid-ul-Fitr, the end of Ramadan, is marked by the sighting of the new moon, followed by a day of celebration known as Eid-ul-Fitr or the “festival of fast-breaking.” Families wake up early in the morning, put on their best clothes and go to the mosque for the Eid sermon and congregational prayers. They thank God for giving them the opportunity to experience the blessed month. The day is accompanied by celebration, socializing, festive meals and modest gift-giving especially to children. But before the festivities begin, every person, adult and child, must have already contributed toward Zakat-ul-Fitra. This is the giving of a meal, or cash equivalent, to a needy person to make sure that none are excluded from this happy occasion. The Eid celebration is not merely about feasting and socializing. There is a deep significance for those who truly observed the holy month with their fasting, abstaining from all bad habits and striving hard to earn the pleasure of God. For the observant, the God most merciful has granted Eid as a day for forgiveness of sins.
The Muslim community in the Olympia area, which is estimated at about 200 families, holds all five congregational prayers daily throughout the year at the mosque on Abernethy Drive. Ramadan is a time when several interfaith and outreach events are typically held at the mosque.
For more information about the community, please visit www.IslamicCenter OfOlympia.org. For more information about Islam and Muslims visit www.Why Islam.org.
Mustafa Mohamedali is a member of the Islamic Center of Olympia. Perspective is coordinated by Interfaith Works in cooperation with The Olympian. The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily endorsed by Interfaith Works or The Olympian.