The month of Ramadan came across this year on April 13th, 2021. 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide observe the month of Ramadan which they consider as a month of duty to fast. However, in the US, eight in ten Muslims stated that they fast in this month. But also this month is meant for people to go beyond just fasting from eating and drinking. For those who are new to the subject, Let's get started with obtaining a perspective and idea about this month and its value to Muslims, and also highlight key aspects about this month. This is Randa Samih Abdu and Hasan Almaghaslah reporting for the Daily Wildcat and this podcast aims to give you a glimpse on the month of Ramadan.
Ramadan is a special month to Muslims around the world. In the Muslim calendar, Ramadan is the ninth month of the year, in which fasting is practiced as one of the five pillars of Islam in which no eating, drinking, smoking, or having marital relations are allowed. This is highlighted by Dr. Scott Lucas associate professor of Islamic studies at the school of middle eastern and north African studies at the University of Arizona: as he also answered the question of what is the purpose of Ramadan
“There's a simple answer and the simple answer is that the holy Koran, which Muslims take to be the word of God, says explicitly to fast during that month. And so it does say to fast and to not eat or drink as well. And the other, you know, there wasn't smoking back then. So that's something that was added on when smoking arose.” “that it's the purpose of fasting is to draw closer to God and to increase our gratitude toward God and all the bounties and blessings that God has given human beings.”
Some people consider Ramadan and fasting as part of a cultural routine more than spiritual. They fast, break the fast, spend time with family and friends as it is known to be a social month. In fact, this is the case for a lot of Muslims, who indeed fast, but don't get the real purpose intended. Imam John Ederer, the prayer leader in the Islamic Center of Charlotte, North Carolina explained:
“So the Qur'an, when describing what is the purpose of fasting, it says that for the purpose that you will gain piety, that you will remember God and think about God in yourself deeply and feel a spiritual presence in your life.”
Imam John also added that it is beautiful to have such a connection between an individual and god that only they can feel and know about because, when they are fasting, no one really knows that they are actually fasting.
“For all you know, somebody is sneaking and drinking water and eating on the side when nobody's looking, right. So that's a private, intimate connection between you and God. When you're truly fasting, you're doing that because God has told you to do that, to discipline yourself.”
He also added that Reaching that level of religiosity and spirituality should reflect on everything a person says and does.
“God is in no interest of you leaving food and water if you can't leave evil speech or evil interactions”
This should also prevent a person from lying, backbiting, and any other forms of foul speech.
“If your tongue is on the straight path, then your heart is on the straight path.”
It is said that people value things only when they lose them, so fasting is supposed to make people appreciate food and water which are usually taken for granted in the day-to-day life.
“There are millions of people all over the Earth that are struggling to find a drop of clean water, much less to have food and a full meal. And so that that Ramadan experience has so many aspects of compassion, of spiritual development that a believer should be engaging in.”
As Dr. Lucas highlighted, the pandemic, indeed, affected the social vibe of this month, which is considered to be an important part of Ramadan.
“Muslims are also encouraged to come together if there isn't, of course, a pandemic, and as long as it's safe for Muslims to come together, to eat together, to break the fast, perform extra prayers in the evening.”
According to Dr. Lucas, Ramadan is one of the very social months where Muslims get together to break the fast and perform prayers, which this year of 2021 and last year were challenging to Muslims due to the pandemic where mosques were closed and gatherings were near non-existing.
“We didn't have people over for breaking the fast for the first time that I could remember, too. But I can imagine if you live by yourself, it could have been really difficult and it might this coming down could be a major source of anxiety as well.”
It is important to mention that not everybody is capable of fasting during the month. Pregnant women and nursing mothers, for example, are not obligated to fast as they require constant nutritional care throughout the day. People with health conditions, those who travel, and women who are menstruating are also not obliged to fast. Those who cannot fast due to such circumstances should count how many days they did not fast and make them up after the month or donate to charity.
“If your doctor says don't fast, you should listen to your doctor and maybe donate more to charity or something as kind of exchange for not fasting, people would do that.”
Muslims during this month attain closer relationship and connection to their religion and god by considering this month as a month of meditation, where worries and life baggage get put aside and focus on oneself.
“It's a good time to unplug. It's a time to try to read the Koran or other books.” “The Koran is encouraged to be read all the time, but especially during Ramadan."
After a day of fasting, Muslims get together to break the fast, which is also known as Iftar.
“It's the time when Muslims can break their fast. They traditionally do that at the sunset prayer time. So if one is in a Muslim majority country, one hears that call to prayer and the streets empty out. Right. Everyone starts, and Tucson is a little different. But you can have the worst traffic jam. It just ends. Everything stops. People get usually dates is usually how one breaks the fast, sometimes water, sometimes milk, depending on where you are.”
The month of Ramadan is also meant to remind people to unite. Dr. Lucas said that Sunnis and Shii’s break their fast at a slightly different time. shii’s break their fast around 20 minutes to half an hour later than Sunnis. Interestingly to know that Sunni’s in some countries such as Lebanon,for examples, do not turn on any music or the TV until Shii’s have broken their fast.
Muslims consider Ramadan to be also the month of charity and helping those in need. Therefore, as Imam John stated, Muslims contribute a lot to the community through donations and charitable work.
“So in the Muslim community here in America, probably for many mosques, I would say 90 percent, maybe 80, 90 percent of their yearly budget of everything they're going to do, whether it be the bills they're paying for the center, any employees, you know. salaries or the charitable work and all of the active work that you're going to do in presenting Islam to society, that is going to be done in Ramadan donations.”
Contributing to the community can be done in many ways John added:
“having a charitable donation system of working with our neighbors and finding out where are the people who are homeless, what about the shelters being a place where people can come and get some food, get some packaged, healthy, good food? That's definitely an emphasis.”
It is great to see the interactions between many of the community members and Muslims in this Month, a lot of people call Muslims and greet them for Ramadan as Imam John mentioned. Even though some people might have some negative feelings towards Muslims since the 9/11 attack which has put Muslims in the U.S. under the spotlight, a good portion of the society is seeing Muslims for who they truly are,, as Muslims made sure to be more interconnected to the community and they stopped adopting the guilt mentality that they have always felt after the attack.
“Now, people did not know who we were. They don't know who our values are, what we were. So when 9/11 hit, it's like, oh, no. Who are those people that we've been seeing? But we never knew? You see, so now people realized over the last 20 years, we need to get more active, involved, invite people to the mosque. And so that has paid off. And now people are all starting to recognize, you know, the beauty of who we are and what we're really about.”
The goal of Ramadan is not to give people a bunch of rules, it is however, meant to allow Muslims to think of one another and strengthen their spirituality.
“In Ramadan, we learned that religion can only be proper if it's rooted in true spirituality. So if religion is just based upon a bunch of rules and enforcement of rules, then it will be void of spirituality and people will not know why they're doing what they're doing.”
“Just if you're reaching out to people. Ramadan Mubarak or Ramadan Kareem, are nice things to say to people who are fasting, people aren't really sure. Sometimes they want to say something nice, but they would like to say happy Ramadan or I mean, it is a happy month, but we don't usually say happy Ramadan. So it's always nice just to tell people you want to say something nice, say Ramadan Mubarak, and Muslims smile and be happy that you said that.”
Thank you for listening, this has been a glimpse on the month of Ramadan. A podcast that aims to draw attention to the month of Ramadan that Muslims around the world observe. This is Randa Samih Abdu and Hasan Almaghaslah. Special thanks to our sources and daily wildcat managing editor Pascal Albright and the Daily Wildcat "Online all the time at Dailywildcat.com."