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Archive for Sunday, July 15, 2012

Faith Forum: What is the significance of Ramadan for Muslims?

July 15, 2012

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Moussa Elbayoumy, community outreach coordinator, Islamic Center of Lawrence, 1917 Naismith Drive:

For Muslims worldwide, the Holy Month of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Muslim lunar calendar, is very special as the spiritual highlight of the entire year. It is a time for the revival and renewal of faith, reflection on the past year, looking forward to the coming year, and coming together as a community in prayer and celebration.

Muslims believe that it was during Ramadan, more than 1,400 years ago, that God began revealing the Muslim holy book, the Quran, to the prophet Mohammed. Fasting of Ramadan is one of the “Five Pillars” of Islam (along with the declaration of faith, daily prayers, charity and pilgrimage to Mecca).

Fasting, a form of worship found in most religions, signifies the full moral commitment to one’s faith, an effort to achieve piety, and feeling and sharing the suffering of the needy and hungry. During Ramadan, Muslims concentrate on their faith, worry less about worldly concerns and withdraw from physical pleasures (totally abstaining from eating, drinking, smoking and sexual relations during the fasting daytime). The fasting is intended to teach discipline, control of desires, self-restraint and generosity, while obeying God’s commandments.

Because the beginning of the Islamic lunar months depends on the actual sighting of the new crescent moon, the start and end dates of Ramadan may vary, and since the lunar calendar is shorter than the regular (Gregorian) calendar, Ramadan moves earlier approximately 11 days every year.

During the month of Ramadan, fasting takes place between dawn and sunset. Locally, that time will be between 4:22 a.m. and 8:42 p.m. on the first day of Ramadan (expected to start on July 21 this year) and changes slightly every day thereafter.

To an outsider, Ramadan might seem to be a time of rigor, hardship and discomfort, but to a Muslim it is a month of joy that Muslims look forward to with anticipation from year to year to observe the fasting of Ramadan, celebrate God’s gift of providing them the opportunity to fulfill their duties, and to rejoice in the joy and achievement that comes with that fulfillment.

— Send email to Moussa Elbayoumy at community@islamicsocietylawrence.org.

Jacquelene Brinton, assistant professor, department of religious studies, Kansas University:

Ramadan is a month on the Muslim calendar during which time Muslims fast every day from dawn until dusk.

Since the Muslim calendar is lunar, Ramadan moves around the year on our calendar — sometimes it falls in winter and sometimes in summer. It is primarily a time of good action and reflection, a time when Muslims see an opportunity to become closer to God. Anyone who fasts for even one day will quickly find that their thoughts turn toward and magnify their desires. So the fast of Ramadan is a struggle; and it is by struggling that Muslims remember why they are fasting, which is for the sake of God. Even though fasting is a struggle, highlighted in years that Ramadan falls during the summer months when the days are long and hot, Muslims look forward to it as a time of spiritual renewal.

But that struggle also reminds those fasting of the needy and the poor, those who go hungry every day, so Ramadan is also a time of increased charitable giving.

Practically speaking, the fast of Ramadan takes place each day from the time of the dawn prayer until the prayer of sunset for the entire month. Fasting means abstaining from food, drink, cigarettes and sex. Many people wake up some hours before sunrise and have a breakfast (called Suhoor), usually with family members. In the evening, after fasting ends for the day, people eat a meal called Iftar. Iftar meals are often community events, and people are often fed at their local mosques or community centers. At the end of Ramadan there is a three-day celebration called Eid al-Fitr.

Not all Muslims are supposed to fast — there are dispensations for those who are too sick to fast or for those who are traveling. Women who are menstruating or who are pregnant also do not fast. Those who miss fasting during Ramadan can make up the days by fasting any time throughout the year.

— Send email to Jacquelene Brinton at jbrinton@ku.edu.

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