This holy month of fasting, turning inward, and purifying oneself is considered the most sacred month for Muslims throughout the world.Ramadan is considered one of the most sacred and important of Muslim holy observances.Outsiders to the Muslim faith may view Ramadan simply as the month of fasting, but the rituals and purpose of this time are much deeper than that.
As the ninth month of the Islamic year, the name Ramadan is derived from the Arabic words for dry, scorched land and scarcity of rations. The early Muslims took this as a sign to turn inward, reduce (or eliminate) taking in of food, and focus on inward spirituality and healing.
This month-long fasting and praying ritual, which begins at the first new moon of the ninth month of the year, is observed by hundreds of millions of Muslims throughout the world, and it is one of the five pillars, or core beliefs, of Islam.
The Muslim faith requires its believers to observe five pillars, or central tenets to live their lives by. They are, in brief: Shahaada, a testimony of faith; Salaat, a five-times-daily prayer; Zakat, charitable giving to benefit the poor; Sawm, ritual fasting almost always observed during the month of Ramadan; and Haajj, a pilgrimage to Mecca that must be done at least once during a person’s lifetime.
Each day of Ramadan, every person over the age of 12 is expected to fast from dawn until sunset. The translation of the Arabic word “to fast” is “refrain.” This means not only refraining from partaking in food and drink, but embodying a sense of the word in all ways: restraining the mouth from idle gossip or unnecessary speech; restraining the ears from hearing anything unpure, refraining from sexual activity during the dawn to sunset hours, etc.
The goal of Ramadan is spiritual purification. Many Muslims pray more often during this time, and take the opportunity to do a spiritual “housecleaning.” They ask for forgiveness of past sins, focus on positive acts for the benefit of others, and ask God for guidance for future living. The fasting is supposed to induce feelings of empathy for those who are less fortunate, as well as a meditative sense of inner peace.
Ramadan is also a time of fellowship, and people will often invite friends and family to share in the sunset fast-breaking meal, the Iftar. Sharing in the fast as well as the meal following strengthens community bonds.
At some point near the end of the month of fasting, often on the 27th day, Muslims celebrate the Laylat al Qadr, or the day in which Mohammed is believed to have received the Quran from God. It is also considered the day in which God determines the course of the world for the following year.
The end of Ramadan occurs when the next new moon is sighted, and a feast marking the end of the fast called Eid-ul Fitr (literally meaning “breaking of the fast”) is celebrated after a communal morning prayer. People don new clothes, visit with friends and family, and often take time off of work in what can be seen as the equivalent of Christmas Day, to spend time in close communion with family.
If one has fasted as required, and achieved a spiritual renewal during Ramadan, it is a positive omen for a good life the entire year following.