Blog by guest blogger Yusra Abdelmeguid
What is Ramadan?
Ramadan has once again come around, and it is one of the best times of the year for Muslims. Muslims believe investing in yourself and your relationship with Allah is the primary factor that will affect the success of all other endeavors in your life. And for Muslims, there is no better time to do so than Ramadan. But if Islam isn’t your religion or not one you are familiar with, you might wonder what it’s all about.
Ramadan is one of the holiest months in Islam. IT is the ninth month of the Muslim year, during which strict fasting is observed from sunrise to sunset. Muslim dates are determined by the cycles of the moon. This means they move back each year by around 11 days within the sun-based Gregorian calendar used by most Westerners. As the calendar is based on lunar cycles, the date of Ramadan is subject to confirmation by a moon sighting close to that time. Each month begins following an official sighting of the first crescent of the new moon. Muslims observe the month of Ramadan to mark that Allah (SWT), or God, gave the first chapters of the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad in 610. Fasting is one of the Five Pillars of Islam, the mandatory acts that form the foundation of Muslim life. The other pillars are faith, prayer, charity, and the pilgrimage to Mecca.
What does it mean to fast precisely? Fasting means abstaining from food, drink, smoking, sex, swearing, gossip, or other sinful acts, during daylight hours. During the month of Ramadan, Muslims have an early morning meal before Fajr (Dawn), known as suhoor. Throughout the day, Muslims sustain from food and water until sunset to then break their fast with their evening meal, called iftar. Ramadan is also a time when Muslims are encouraged to give to charity, strengthen their relationship with God, and show kindness and patience. During this month, believers also head to the Mosque for an additional night prayer called Taraweeh. This is only held during Ramadan. For Mr. Naiebi, being born in a Muslim family and a majority Muslim country, Ramadan is a month when the Muslim community comes together for faith and improvement of their relationship with God. It is the month of purifying and strengthening the humanitarian connections. After moving to the United States, Mr. Naiebi said that celebrating Ramadan here in the states is quite different from home because the days of fasting in the states are much longer than it is back home in Afghanistan.
What is the purpose of fasting?
Fasting allows Muslim worshippers to concentrate their mind and soul on their devotion to their faith through prayers, practicing patience, expressing gratitude, giving charity, helping the needy, and seeking forgiveness. The religious texts state: “The month of Ramadan is that in which was revealed the Quran; a guidance for humanity, and clear proofs of the guidance, and the criterion (of right and wrong).” And whosoever of you is present, let him fast the month, and whosoever of you is sick or on a journey, a number of other days.
“Allah desires for you ease; He desires not hardship for you; and that you should complete the period, and that you should magnify Allah for having guided you, and that perhaps you may be thankful.” Every Muslim fast for the entire month of Ramadan, with exceptions such as the elderly, women who are breastfeeding or menstruating, and those with diabetes or other illnesses, disabilities, or medical conditions. In some Muslim countries, it’s a crime to fail to observe fasting.
“Ramadan is the month in which the Quran was revealed as a guide for humanity with clear proofs of guidance and the standard ‘to distinguish between right and wrong. So, whoever is present this month, let them fast. Who is ill or on a journey, then let them fast an equal number of days after Ramadan. Allah intends ease for you, not hardship, so that you may complete the prescribed period and proclaim the greatness of Allah for guiding you, and perhaps you will be grateful.”[ Surah Baqarah: 185]
How is Ramadan different this year and what does it mean for Muslims?
Ramadan for Muslims is like Christmas for Christians; it is the most exciting time of year for Muslims that is looked forwarded to by everyone. Every year as soon as Ramadan ends, you can observe countless Muslims begin their countdown to the next Ramadan. It is a time of year every Muslim looks forward to. It is a time when family and friends all come together, a time where Muslim’s dash to spend sleepless nights at the Mosque and a time when change comes about. This is the second Ramadan that has fallen during the COVID-19 pandemic. For many Muslims, that means another year of changes to their traditional practices.
Traditionally iftar is usually shared with friends and family members, but because of COVID, these Ramadan gatherings have been restricted once more. This past year many people pre-covid had scattered to new places, Not realizing that soon the world would stop, and borders would close, making it impossible to meet new people and fully adjust to their new environment. That meant for many Muslim refugees Ramadan in a new country would limit their access to the people they would celebrate with. As an Afghanistan refugee who is new to the states, Mr. Naiebi said that he spends most of his Ramadan with his family and children.
“There are no big changes. Only as we are new here, we do not have many friends. I know only a few families around me and also some friends who are living in different states. Still, we kept the same tradition as past.”Mr. Naiebi
Last year Ramadan landed during the peak of the COVID pandemic lockdown. Restrictions prohibited the mixing of family and friends during Ramadan, and all of the Mosques were closed, which meant no Taraweeh prayer (Night Prayer). Many Muslims were left to celebrate Ramadan alone and away from their loved ones. Muslims had to adjust and change many of their traditional practices of Ramadan to align with the strict COVID restrictions that were put in place around the world. The isolation exposed many Muslims to feelings they may not have previously had to grapple with – loneliness. Lockdown made it extremely difficult for numerous Muslims around the world even to feel a sense of Ramadan, and many struggled tremendously to cope with the new norm of Ramadan. Although strict restrictions were put in place during 2020, this year however the festival coincides with the easing of some lockdown rules. Up to six people from different families or two households can now gather for iftar. Restaurants will also be able to serve meals outdoors. For those unable to meet, many virtual iftar events and online Islamic lectures are taking place. Taraweeh Prayers are now being hosted in a socially distanced, COVID friendly manner at Mosques.
“Ramadan reminds me that there are millions of people who have not enough food for themselves and their children. It motivates me to help other people who need assistance.”Mr. Naiebi
“So, surely with hardship comes ease” (Quran 94:5)
COVID-19 demonstrates how precious life is, how economies can falter, and routines can be turned upside down instantly. Many have lost their lives, and it is impossible to go through this month without considering that. For Muslims, COVID has come along and altered Muslim’s “traditional” Ramadan, faith communities worldwide, have proven resilient in the face of adversity, and have proven a great deal of creativity and innovation. Across the globe, organizations, communities, and individuals are rallying together (at a socially acceptable distance, that is) to connect the Muslim community, whether that be live-streaming evening prayers, Iftars (breaking the fast) via Zoom, Islamic lectures, and workshops on YouTube – you name it, it’s there!
The celebration of Eid and what does it mean?
The end of Ramadan is marked with a celebration called Eid al-Fitr. Many Muslims attend Eid prayers at the Mosque and then enjoy a large meal with friends and family. It’s also widespread for believers to exchange money and gifts with each other.
A note to Muslims and Non-Muslims from Mr. Naiebi:
“Muslim and non-Muslim people are all human beings. No matter who believes in what religion. We have to respect each other. Being nice in the societies. Help people and pave the way for development.”Mr. Naiebi
Lutheran Social Services of the National Capital Area (LSSNCA) is providing funding for food and housing to many families so that they can enjoy this month in peace and ease. Your tax-exempt donations will make a huge difference in the life of a newly arrived immigrant family. Please open your hearts to support those in need during this blessed month. To learn how you can volunteer or donate to the mission of LSSNCA serving refugee and immigrant families, visit our website.