What is Ramadan?
Ramadan starts tomorrow. And my family and I could not be more excited to welcome this beautiful and holy month into our home and lives once again. We absolutely love this precious time of year for us Muslims, when the golden glow of prayer, family, and utter tranquility is upon us. To all my Muslim friends, I wish a blessed Ramadan Kareem to you and your families.
To my Non-Muslim friends, maybe you’re a tad bit confused. Maybe you’ve seen and heard a lot about this word “Ramadan” in your news and social media feeds lately and are wondering what it is?
Maybe you already know that it has something to do with the Muslim religion but aren’t exactly sure what?
Maybe you wish all your Muslim friends and neighbors a “Ramadan Mubarak” because you’ve heard and have been told it’s the right thing to do, but aren’t exactly sure what you’re wishing them?
Well I’ll give you a quick recap.
Ramadan is the 9th month in the Islamic calendar. Since the Islamic calendar is based on the Lunar Cycle, each year it falls back 10 days.
What does the month consist of? It lasts for about 30 days, and is a month dedicated to the worship of God (pronounced Allah in Arabic), prayer, Quraanic recitation (the Islamic holy book), and spiritual reflection. The reflection stems largely from a major task we perform this month called “fasting”.
Fasting is not solely a Muslim concept by any means, although it is a major Muslim concept. Almost every major religion has their own form and version of Fasting. For Muslims in Ramadan, our traditional Fast is done from sunrise until sunset, as we omit all foods, drinks, and any other activities that could otherwise invalidate our fast. The reason for this is, as many religions and spiritual practices point out, the act of Fasting puts one in a spiritual state of reflection. Suddenly the worldly things we crave and desire are put out of our minds as we know even the slightest consumption invalidates our fast, and we choose not to partake in them during the day. Therefore our willpower becomes so much stronger; and we realize that we are masters of our own willpower, actions, and therefore faith. Those who are exempt from fasting are children, the elderly, pregnant and lactating women, and any who may be ill.
Since Charity is another major (and obligatory) Muslim concept, thirst and hunger while in a Fasting state puts us in the shoes (stomachs) of those less fortunate than us. And I guarantee, ask any Muslim which month they donate to charity the most, and all would agree and say “Ramadan”. The reason is not just that our religious tasks are counted ten-fold, but we feel so much more compelled to help those less fortunate once we’ve had a taste of thirst and hunger ourselves. And the sad reality is that while we get to break our fast with a feast at the end of the day—our hunger pains from 10 minutes prior long forgotten—many around the world who suffer from hunger and poverty daily do not have this opportunity. It’s this jabbing reminder that encourages us to give back even more.
Our fast at the end of the day is broken with a nightly feast of delicious foods, served and prepared in the presence of family. And this is another major reason why Ramadan is such a joyous month—the glow of familial love surrounds us constantly, with almost every major task being conducted with those we love.
We eat together, pray together, and even wake up before sunrise to have suhoor together—the meal prefacing the daily Fast. One of the most beautiful things about this month is that this is one of the only times of year the entire family gathers and eats all major meals together, since most members of the family are fasting, thereby increasing the familial bond and memorable experiences. In my house we’re all so busy and on different schedules that we probably eat together two or three times a week at most, whereas in Ramadan we eat together nightly. I can’t even begin to recount how many beautiful Ramadan dinners (called ‘Iftar’ in Arabic) are etched in my memory—both with my immediate and extended family.
Finally culminating this beautiful month is Eid El-Futr (literally translates to “holiday of the breaking of the fast”) where we gather to exchange food, treats, and gifts.
Yes, many of our traditions from this year and last year have been altered due to the pandemic. Unfortunately there will definitely be much less gathering due to social distancing. But like last year, and like our Christian and Jewish friends who just celebrated Easter and Passover twice already socially distanced mid-pandemic, we’ll find ways to make it just as beautiful and memorable. In our home, we cook and bake a lot together nightly, and pray together, and my kids are looking forward to all of our usual traditions!