In todays’ world, there seems to be a lot of misunderstanding and misconception regarding the Muslim religion, so I wanted to attempt to help our Western culture understand more at this holy time of the Muslim calendar.
So I asked fellow Muslims the questions I had been pondering.
It’s not just Muslims who fast but many religions such as Christians, Jews and Hindus. It is believed fasting heightens spirituality and develops self-control, in fact, in the yoga principle, it is recommended that one maintains a spiritual fast on a particular day each week (Monday or Thursday) and on the full moon day of each month.
So I thought I would start this post by explaining why Muslims fast, because I personally think the reasons are very humbling!
- To build self-discipline and to become a better person.
- To develop compassion for the poor and needy who feel hungry every day.
- It’s a spiritually and physically cleansing experience. Just like other religions, fasting is seen as an opportunity to separate yourself from the things of this world and to concentrate on your relationship with God and become closer to him.
- An obligatory “poor tax” is paid by Muslims at the end of the fasting month and should total 2.5% of one's income. It’s paid to charitable organisations, neighbourhood groups or given directly to the poor and needy in the neighbourhood.
Believers strive to purify body and soul and increase their Taqwa (good deeds and God-consciousness). This purification of body and soul gives harmony to the individual. It is believed one of the main ways in which sins and wrong doings will be eradicated is by multiplying our good deeds in the month of Ramaḍan.
During Ramadan, people try to show compassion, generosity and mercy to others, exercise patience, and control their anger. In essence, Muslims are trying to improve what they believe to be of good moral character and habits.
Now you know the reason behind the fasting, I hope you will remember this when you realise what they have to abstain from during this period, because it’s not just food!
The word Ramadan is taken from the word ramad which means heated by the sun, Ramaḍān was named because it burns the sins of the believers. This tradition was introduced in the second year of Hajra in 624CE, and is particularly important as it complies with one of the five pillars of Islam.
The beginning and end of Ramadan are determined by the 9th month lunar Islamic calendar so the dates and even the month change every year. In 2017 it runs 27 May - 24 June.
It is only adults (defined as those who have reached the age of puberty) and those who are sane that are expected to fast. Young children, pregnant or breast feeding women, travelling Muslims, the sick, those with long-term illnesses or the mentally ill do not fast. Menstruating women don’t fast during their period but will be required to make the days up, as do anyone who is ill during Ramadan.
The end of Ramadam (known as Idul Fitri) is an important time for special celebration and feasts. It begins with mass prayer gatherings early in the morning at mosques or in open fields. When walking home from the prayers people may pay a quick visit to friends to ask for forgiveness of any wrong-doing they may have done throughout the year by asking “Mohon Maaf Lahir Batin” which means "forgive me from the bottom of my heart/soul for my wrongdoings in the past year"
If someone is fasting, generally they will wake early in the morning maybe around 4am to have a meal then go back to sleep. A call to prayer from the neighborhood mosque is sounded which can sometimes be louder and last longer than normal as this is to encourage people to wake up.
If someone has a job then they will go to work as normal, however, the lack of liquid and food during the day (especially when it is hot) combined with an unusual sleep pattern, can take its toll. People may have reduced energy levels and can be seen moving and carrying out tasks at a slower pace, some may even find it more difficult to concentrate.
Some street vendors and warungs (local café’s) close during the day and restaurants may stop selling alcohol during Ramadan.
If someone becomes angry or has negative feelings towards others, it invalidates their fasting for that day so please be respectful and do not speak harshly to those who are fasting and be patient with them!
Around sunset, a call to prayer will sound from the mosque signalling the end of the fast and people usually have a very sweet drink such as coconut milk and sweet snacks before a proper meal. Some families prepare special foods and prayers are made before the full meal is served.
How locals approach Ramadan
However, this time of year isn’t a chore, it’s a time that Muslims look forward to and it generally isn’t the food they miss, it’s not being able to drink water and it’s often the first thing they reach for when breaking fast. At this time of year, the quietness is enjoyed as people around try not to have angry thoughts. For some, from the first day of fasting until the end celebration, it is enjoyed as being a time for learning and testing how much people know about the outside world. It is each individual’s inner strength and willpower that keeps them focused and that they are a kinder person and more charitable, it is hoped that this feeling will keep them going all year until the next Ramadan.
Ramadan is a time for celebration and sharing
As Ramadan is a time of celebration, fireworks and sparklers are often sold from street-side tables in readiness for the end celebration, however some children cannot contain their excitement and often start shooting rockets or lighting Catherine wheels in the evenings. We enjoyed watching children and their parents squealing with delight on many occasions as they watched the sky light up with colourful rockets after their evening meal.
The sense of community and understanding from foreigners working with Muslims was wonderful. Every day I observed kindness, for example as soon as something heavy needed to be carried, non-Muslims would quickly jump up to take the load, often having to tell fasters they should be conserving their energy and not to worry about this particular task.
People who smoked would move away from those who were fasting so as not to be culturally insensitive and eating was confined to designated areas.
For me personally, all Muslims we have been around even outside of Ramadan have been so incredibly warm, selfless, caring and generous. I will never forget our time in Malaysia when we were cycling along a road and were invited to share a wedding feast by the local people: if you want to read more about this special time for us then click here.
Do you fast and if so, what do you feel you gain from this? Have you spent time with someone who is fasting at Ramadan or do you do this yourself? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.
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