Friday, August 21, 2009
Practices During Ramadhan
The most prominent event of this month is fasting. Every day during the month of Ramadan, Muslims around the world get up before dawn to eat Sahur, the pre-dawn meal, then they perform the fajr prayer. They have to stop eating and drinking before the call for prayer starts until the fourth prayer of the day, Maghrib. Muslims may continue to eat and drink after the sun has set until the next morning's fajr prayer call. Then the process starts all over.
Ramadān is a time of reflecting and worshiping God. Muslims are expected to put more effort into following the teachings of Islam and to avoid obscene and irreligious sights and sounds. Sexual thoughts and activities during fasting hours are also forbidden.[Qur'an 2:187] Purity of both thought and action is important. The fast is intended to be an exacting act of deep personal worship in which Muslims seek a raised awareness of closeness to God.
The act of fasting is said to redirect the heart away from worldly activities, its purpose being to cleanse the inner soul and free it from harm. It also allows Muslims to practice self-discipline, self-control, sacrifice, and empathy for those who are less fortunate; thus encouraging actions of generosity and charity. However, a certain level of self-control can be lost by those who suffer from eating disorders.
The elderly, the chronically ill, and the mentally ill are exempt from fasting, although the first two groups must endeavor to feed the poor in place of their missed fasting. Also exempt are pregnant women, women during the period of their menstruation, and women nursing their newborns. A difference of opinion exists among Islamic scholars as to whether this last group must make up the days they miss at a later date, or feed poor people as a recompense for days missed.While fasting is not considered compulsory in childhood, many children endeavor to complete as many fasts as possible as practice for later life. Lastly, those traveling are exempt, but must make up the days they miss.[Qur'an 2:184] More specifically, Twelver Shī‘ah define those who travel more than 14 miles in a day as exempt. The elderly or those who suffer from a disability or disease and have no prospect of getting better in the future can pay the cost of Iftar for a person who cannot afford it, or else they can host him in their house and have him eat with them after sunset as a way of repaying for the days they could not fast. [Qur'an 2:184]
A person who is observing Ramadan might break the fast accidentally, due to having forgotten it. In such an instance, one should spit out the food being eaten or cease the forbidden activity, immediately upon remembering the fast.
When Ramadan came to overshadow Ashura in importance, it took on some characteristics of the latter. According to the well-known hadith, the person who observes Ramadan properly will have all their past sins forgiven. According to another, "When Ramadan arrives, Heaven's gates are opened, Hell's gates are closed, and the demons are chained up" and who ever passes away will enter paradise.
There are exceptions in certain Muslim communities that deny practicing fasting in Ramadān such as Alevi people in Turkey.
Prayer and reading of the Qur'an
In addition to fasting, Muslims are encouraged to read the entire Qur'an. Some Muslims perform the recitation of the entire Qur'an by means of special prayers, called Tarawih, which are held in the mosques every night of the month, during which a whole section of the Qur'an (juz, which is 1/30 of the Qur'an) is recited. Therefore the entire Qur'an would be completed at the end of the month.
Ramadān is also a time when Muslims are to slow down from worldly affairs and focus on self-reformation, spiritual cleansing and enlightenment, establishing a link between themselves and God through prayer, supplication, charity, good deeds, kindness and helping others. Since it is a festival of giving and sharing, Muslims prepare special foods and buy gifts for their family and friends and for giving to the poor and needy who cannot afford it; this can involve buying new clothes, shoes and other items of need. There is also a social aspect involved the preparing of special foods and inviting people for the Iftar meal (the meal to open the fast).
In many Muslim and non Muslim countries with large Muslim populations, markets close down in the evening to enable people to perform prayers and consume the Iftar meal – these markets then re-open and stay open for a good part of the night. Muslims can be seen shopping, eating, spending time with their friends and family during the evening hours. In some Muslim countries, failing to fast or openly flaunting such behavior during Ramadan is considered a crime and is prosecuted as such. For instance, in Algeria, in October 2008 the court of Biskra condemned six people to 4 years in prison and heavy fines.