Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, when the Prophet Mohammed was given the Quran.  The word ‘Ramadan’ is derived from ramad which is the Arabic word for ‘heat’.

One night during the month of Ramadan – known as Laylat al Qadr, or the night of Power – in the year 610 AD when Muhammed was 40 years of age and was meditating in Mount Hira, he had a vision of an angel appearing before him.  This angel introduced himself as Jibril and revealed that Muhammed was the messenger of Allah and was born to be a prophet to his people.

The angel asked Muhammed to recite what he said,

“Recite in the name of your Lord who creates,

creates man from a clot,

Recite : And your Lord is the most bountiful,

who teaches by the pen,

He teaches man what he does not know”.

Allah gave Muhammed the teachings of the Quran and set him on his path to becoming the prophet of Islam.

Observance of Ramadan is mandated in the Quran.  Whoever sights [the new moon] of the month, let him fast it and whoever is ill or on a journey – then an equal number of other days.

Fasting during Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam, a series of formal acts of worship that are fundamental to the lives of Muslims. The Pillars include, Shahada – sincerely declaration of faith and trust that professes that there is only one God, Salat – performing ritual prayers five times a day, Zakat – paying a charity tax to the benefit the poor and the needy, Sawm – fasting during the month of Ramadan, and Hajj – the pilgrimage to Mecca.  The practice of fasting is also known as ‘Roza’.  The term ‘Roza’ in Arabic means ‘abstinence’.

The predominant practice during Ramadan is fasting from dawn to sunset.  The predawn meal is called Suhur while the meal at sunset that breaks the fast is called the Iftar.

Muslims also engage themselves in prayers and chanting during Ramadan.  It is a time of spiritual reflection.  In the evenings, dates are usually served as the first food to break the fast.  According to tradition, Muhammed broke the fast with three dates.  While fasting from dawn to dusk, muslims refrain from consuming food, drinking liquids, smoking. Fasting for muslims during Ramadan includes increased offering of Salat [prayers] and recitation of quran.

Charity is very important in Islam and Zakat often translated as the ‘poor rate’ is obligatory.  In some countries, lights are strung in public squares lantern has become symbolic decorations welcoming the month of Ramadan.  This tradition is believed to have originated in Egypt.  In Java, many people bathe in holy springs to prepare for fasting.  In Jakarta, fire crackers were traditionally used to wake up people until the 19th century.

Common greetings during Ramadan are ‘Ramadan Mubarak’ or ‘Ramadan Kareem’.  The holiday of Eid-ul Fitr marks the end of Ramadan and the beginning of the next lunar month, Shawwal.  This first day of the following month is declared after another crescent new moon has been sighted or the completion of 30 days of fasting if no visual sighting is possible due to weather condition.  The first day of Shawwal is called Eid-ul Fitr.

The month-long fasting ends with the festival of Eid-ul Fitr that symbolizes the reward for the fasting.  Muslims on this day wear the best clothes and also do ‘namaz’, a congregational prayer at Masjid or Mosque.  After offering their prayers, they exchange good wishes of the festival with their neighbours and friends.  They also donate alms to the poor on the occasion.  Delicious food and drinks are indispensible part of the festivity. People decorate their houses and prepare traditional sweets to celebrate the festival. The delicious ‘meethi sevian’ [sweet vermicelli] is prepared.  The significance of this festival is also interpreted as a good time to bring people together for harmony.

GEETHA GANGADARAN