What is Ramadan? Part I - Meanings and fasting
Paul H. Williams
This weekend marks the end of Ramadan 2018, the holiest month on the Islamic calendar.
Some Muslims will be having a feast to break the month-long observance that they have been going through.
The start of the month is determined by the first sighting of the new moon, and the month might last for different periods in different countries.
This is oft a controversial element of the period. However, it is observed because it marks the period when Allah revealed the Koran to the Prophet Muhammad.
It is commemorated by ritual fasting and abstinence. Fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam. It is prescribed for all mature and healthy Muslims. It is an act of worship, an opportunity to get close to Allah and a time to become more thoughtful of those in need.
Practising Muslims are not allowed to eat between sunrise and sunset. This is to demonstrate self-discipline, self-restraint and generosity. It is a common practice to eat one meal, the suhoor, just before sunrise, and another, the iftar, immediately after sunset.
The health of the participant is taken into consideration, and certain types of food, such as complex carbohydrates (wheat, oats, lentils, basmati rice) that release energy slowly, are recommended. Not recommended are high-fat and high sugar-foods. Instead, baked samosas, boiled dumplings, grilled meats and mill-based puddings are strongly suggested.
Though fasting is a major part of the observance some people are exempt. They include non-Muslims, young children, the sick, people with mental health illnesses, travellers, the elderly, menstruating women, pregnant women, lactating mothers or women who have just given birth.
The holiest night in Islam is that of the 27th day. It is known as Lailat al Qadr, the Night of Power, which commemorates the day the Koran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. However, since the exact day on which Lailat al Qadr falls was never specified by Muhammad, some Muslims choose to commemorate all the last 10 days of Ramadan as if they were all Lailat al Qadr.
The end of Ramadan is signalled by the ending of the period of fasting. There is the Eid ul-Fitr Festival, which consists of early morning prayers, and then a day of feasting with family and friends. Some people wear their best clothes to eat their first daylight meal in a month, and thank Allah for giving them strength and self-control. Gifts are also exchanged and some homes are decorated.