20 July 2011

Some Thoughts As Ramadan Approaches

The Spirit of Ramadan

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. It was during this month that Allah gave the Prophet Mohammad the verses of the holy book, Qur’an. Muslims pray daily at all times, but during Ramadan the taraweeh, or Ramadan night prayer has additional importance.  According to scripture, “Whoever observes night prayer in Ramadan as an expression of his faith and to seek reward from Allah, his previous sins will be blotted out.” So, the Ramadan nightly prayer, after a day of fasting serves the purpose of erasing the sins that have been previously committed. During this month Muslims are required to abstain from food, drink, intimate relations, ill will, bad talk and actions or any temptations from dawn to dusk. This holy month was given to bring moderation into our lives. The spirit and intent of Ramadan is in the human transformation in a month-long inner spiritual journey of finding oneself in tune with spirituality. Fasting is one of the Five Pillars of Islam.
His Majesty, King Abdullah at Ramadan Prayers
Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) taught that God has no need for the hunger or thirst of someone who hurts others, violates their dignity or usurps their rights. Fasting alone is not enough. The eyes, ears, tongue, hands and feet all have their fasts. For example, temptations of the tongue like lies, slander, vulgarity and senseless arguments must be curbed in order to maintain the integrity of the fast.
Prayers at Al-Husseini Mosque, Amman
Ramadan becomes a true source of peace and solace when the fasting of the heart focuses on the attachment to the divine. The most profound dimensions of fasting are consciousness of behavior and vigilance over action. Niyyah, or “intention” is one of the most important aspects of fasting. Intention is not achieved by merely abstaining from food and drink, but must “intend in [his] heart that [the fast] is meant to be a worship for Allah alone.” Therefore, fasting for dietary or political reasons does not achieve niyyah. According to scripture “Whoever does not make niyyah before dawn, would not have fasted.” It can be said that the intention to fast is at least as important as the fast itself.

Knowing about hunger and knowing hunger are two different things. The hardness in our hearts frequently springs from our distance from the condition of others. Rarely do we walk a mile in the shoes of the poor, sick, and oppressed. One teacher admonished “Rest assured, if you do not taste what it feels like to be hungry, you will not care for those who are.” The fast reminds Muslims of the suffering of the poor and reinforces the importance of charity during Ramadan.

For thirty days, we will rise around 4 am and prepare the meal called sohour. Everyone will participate. About 5 minutes before sunrise everyone will finish the last bit of food and last sip of water. Afterwards, Morning Prayer at home or at Mosque before beginning the activities of the day.

For the duration of the day we will abstain from food, water and anything detrimental to our self-discipline. In the afternoon and late afternoon everyone will gather for prayers and wait for sunset to break the fast. The fast is broken by eating a few dates and drinking some water or sweet drinks to give a boost of energy. Iftar, the breaking of the fast, is a familial and community event and it is a rich meal. Any type of food can be eaten, but the dessert almost always includes knaffe or qattayef. Knaffe is a cake made of wheat, sugar, honey, raisins and nuts. Qatayef is similar, but smaller and folded to encase the nuts and raisins. Between iftar and sohour Muslims may eat freely. Muslim and non-Muslim friends are invited to come round to help celebrate the day.
Making qattayef, Amman
Preparing Ramadan sweets, Amman
On the 29th or 30th day, depending on the moon sighting, the fasting ends in celebration. Everyone gathers in an open area and pray the prayer of thanksgiving for having a blessed Ramadan. Ramadan is only 30 days, but its spirit should last a lifetime. We should always hunger to discover our hearts, aspire to balance, connect with our fellow man and open our hearts and minds to our fellow human beings. The joy that comes from that will be ours forever.

At the end of Ramadan, before breaking the fast Muslims say takbeer. Takbeer is a statement that nothing in the world is bigger than Allah. Loosely translated it is “Allah is the Greatest, Allah is the greatest. There is no god worthy of worship but Allah, and Allah is greatest. Allah is the Greatest and all praise is due to Allah.” Takbeer signifies that Eid Al-Fitr has begun.

Eid al-Fitr
Ramadan is the most joyous month of the year and ends with the breaking of the fast, Eid al-Fitr. Eid is celebrated with lights and decorations. Streets, mosques and homes are decorated. During the celebration people dress in their finest clothes, decorate their homes with lights, give treats to the children and visit friends and family. The sense of gratitude and generosity are important parts of Ramadan. At the end of the fasting Muslims are left with the many benefits of Ramadan. According to tradition, Ramadan:
  • ·         Strengthen’s ones ties with Allah and trains the soul to observe duties of devotion in accordance with the teachings of Holy Qur'an.
  • ·         Enforces patience and determination.
  • ·         Promotes the principle of sincerity by keeping the individual away from arrogance and showing off.
  • ·         Promotes good character, particularly truthfulness and trustworthiness.
  • ·         Encourages the individual to do away with bad habits and change his or her circumstances for the better.
  • ·         Enhances generosity, hospitality and giving to charity.
  • ·         Reinforces feelings of unity and brotherhood among Muslims.
  • ·         Instills orderliness and observance of the value of time.
  • ·         Serves as an opportunity for children to perform acts of obedience and to practice Islamic acts of worship.
  • ·         Offers the chance to balance one’s attention to both physical and spiritual needs.

Ramadan gives more than a cleansing of the body and mind. We become closer to Allah through prayer and become more compassionate by experiencing hunger and learning about the suffering of the poor.

Ramadan Kareem, Y'all!


Anonymous said...

Beautifully written. I enjoyed reading it!

Ol Big Jim's Place said...

Thank you for the kind words. Readers like you encourage me to keep writing!