Ramadan: Near & Far

Author: Mamadou Sy, Vice President of Operations

In a few days, millions of Muslims around the world will begin to observe the Holy Month of Ramadan by fasting from dawn to dusk. It is one of Islam’s five pillars. The fasting during this ninth month of the Muslim calendar is an obligation for anyone who is healthy and able. Those that cannot fast, like a pregnant or breastfeeding woman, an elderly or sick person, or someone on a long trip, can meet the obligation by feeding the poor.

Although the most visible aspect of Ramadan is known by the Arabic word sawmu or the refraining from eating and drinking from dawn to dusk, the word is more broadly defined and interpreted by many Muslim scholars as the obligation to refrain from all passions, unkind or corrupt thoughts, and behaviors. Every part of a Muslim body must pull back from its bad habits; it is an opportunity to reeducate and tame oneself. The month of Ramadan is indeed a time of communion, reflection, devotion, and compassion. Muslims believe that fasting during the month will absolve all their shortcomings and that all their good deeds will be multiplied by several folds. That interpretation explains the surge of compassion during the month of Ramadan.

During the month, eating and drinking are permissible only until the “white thread of light becomes distinguishable from the dark thread of night at dawn.” The fast begins with a meal called suḥur in Arabic or last meal before dawn. Each day, after sunset prayer (Maghrib), Muslims gather in their homes or at local mosques to break their fast with a meal called iftar that is often shared with friends and extended family members. The ifṭar usually begins with dates or a sip of water or milk. After the last prayer of the day (Ish’a), Muslims performs additional prayers called tawariḥ prayers, reading section of the Holy Qurʾan. The goal is to complete the reading of the entire book by the end of the month.

The end of Ramadan is celebrated as Eid al-Fitr or the Feast of Fast-Breaking. Before the morning prayer of Eid al-Fitr, every adult Muslim who possesses food or cash more than their needs must pay zakat al-Fitr (fitrana). Food and funds collected are then distributed to the most vulnerable members of the community. Muslims are encouraged to perform the Eid al-Fitr prayer in group, but those that cannot go to the gatherings can pray at home, in group or alone. Eid al-Fitr is one of the two major religious holidays of the Muslim calendar; the other being the Eid al-Adha, that marks the end of the hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca that all Muslims are expected to perform at least once in their lives as one of the five pillars, provided that they are healthy and have the means.

The celebration of Eid al-Fitr varies from one culture to the other, from one continent to the other, both in terms of length and manifestations. In some cultures, and communities, children wear new clothes and go door-to-door to ask for gifts, and adults wear nice cloths and go door-to-door to ask for forgiveness to their neighbors, while others visit their loved ones’ graves to pray for them.

As we begin this year’s Ramadan, let’s think of the thousands of refugees who will begin this tradition away from home and without many of their loved ones. Many of these refugees are being served by the Lutheran Social Services of the National Capital Area.

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