Monday, August 1, 2011

What is Ramadan?

For Muslims around the world Ramadan is a very special time. However, people who are not familiar with the religion of Islam often don't understand its meaning. Well, allow me to explain.

Ramadan is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar. It was during this month that we believe the Qur'an was revealed to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). The Islamic calendar is based on the phases of the moon rather than set times. This is why Ramadan is celebrated at a different time each year and also why beginning and ending times can vary a  little.

Muslims are supposed to fast from sun up to sun down during Ramadan. Sex, foul language and other bad behaviors are also not allowed. This has a few purposes. First, it is intended to give us a taste of how the less fortunate feel in hopes that we will become more charitable. In other words, if we see what it's like to be hungry, we'll have more sympathy for people who don't have food and we will help them. It also serves to take our attention away from wordly things so that we may focus more attention on our religion and God. Pregnant women, nursing mothers, the elderly, children under 12 and anyone who is not well or who may be putting their health at risk by fasting are not required to do so. However, they may be required to feed a hungry person (meaning charity) and/or make up the fasts when they are able. And just a little advice for courtesy, if you can avoid it, do not eat or drink in front of a person who is fasting.

During Ramadan, Muslims are encouraged to read the Qur'an, pray and focus on spiritual cleansing and being closer to God. We are to use this time to become closer to our families as well. We are also encouraged to practice charity by donating money, food, clothing, etc to the less fortunate. Ramadan is also the time to let go of grudges and practice forgiveness. In other words, it's a time for us to straighten up and try to be better people.

Ramadan is also a time for celebration. People often prepare elaborate meals to break their fasts and often invite family members and friends to join them. Ramadan can also involve gift giving although this is more common on the Eids. An Eid is an Islamic holiday. Eid Al Fitr marks the end of Ramadan. Prior to the Eid, Muslims are supposed to donate food to less fortunate Muslims so that everyone has food for the Eid. The Eid begins with a prayer and is followed by celebrations with family and friends. It's during this time that children typically receive gifts. Christians have Christmas, Jews have Hanukkah, Pagans have Samhain and Yule and Muslims have Ramadan and the Eids.

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