Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, and even though the name of the month predates Islam, Ramadan took on special significance as it became the appointed time of year in which to commemorate the revelation of the Qur’an. Like the Jewish Yom Kippur and the Christian Lent, Ramadan is a time of atonement, a time of becoming closer to God and of coming together as an extended family of believers. Unlike Yom Kippur and Lent, Ramadan is not a seasonal observance.
The Islamic calendar is lunar, and therefore the months migrate throughout the seasons, shifting backwards roughly two weeks per year. What this means in practical terms is that over the course of a normal lifetime, Muslims will observe Ramadan three or four times in the middle of winter, a similar number of times in mid-summer, and of course at every other time of year.
Fasting was not unknown to the pre-Islamic Arabs as a means of religious observance, and it is certainly a familiar aspect of Jewish and Christian practice. During Ramadan, Muslims abstain from food, water, sexual relations and other excesses from sunrise to sunset. They maintain their normal cycle of praying five times per day, and they add special prayers each evening during which a section of the Qur’an is recited, so that over the course of the month the entire scripture is read. In direct reference to fasting during Ramadan, the Qur’an states: “God wants ease for you, not hardship” (2:185). Consequently, young children, the sick, the elderly, travelers and menstruating women are not required to fast.
Fasting for an entire month might appear extreme to some people, but Islam takes a very balanced view of life, with a focus on the longer term. The struggle of getting through any particular day is balanced with the evening meal, which is usually celebrated communally. Similarly, fasting through long summer days is balanced in a decade’s time with the longer darkness of winter.
My father always used to say that you shouldn’t eat because you’re hungry; you should eat so that you don’t get hungry. Muslims do not fast in order to deprive themselves of food, water and the other comforts of life; Muslims fast so that they will not be deprived of God’s bounty throughout this life and in the life to come.
Robert A. Campbell, Ph.D. writes about world affairs, particularly on matters pertaining to religion, science, global ethics, and the knowledge economy. For more information about his research and writing, particularly his work on the Qur’an, visit Robert Campbell.
Article Source: Ezine; Robert Campbell Ph.D.