The Holy Month of Ramadan
The holy month of Ramadan occurs during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and is observed by Muslims around the world. While many know it as the month of fasting, it is spiritually significant for us because in addition to abstaining from food and water during the day, participants aim to spend more time offering prayers and helping the poor.
The daily fast (sawm) starts with an early dawn meal, sahūr, and continues until sunset, when the fast is broken with the evening meal known as Iftar. Muslims perform this practice of fasting for 30 days or until the new moon for the month of Shawwal is observed (Muslims follow a lunar calendar).
This year, I am spending Ramadan with my family in Pakistan. At the start of the month, we collected zakat money (the annual charity calculated against Muslims’ total income and possessions,) and distributed it among people in need, starting first with our closest relatives.
It is summer season in Pakistan and we need to wake up at 3 AM every morning for the sawm. Children do not fast until they reach puberty, but sometimes do wake up in time to join the adults for the early meal, which usually consists of fried eggs, yogurt, paratha (a crispy, layered flatbread), milk cream, fruit jam, and tea (usually with milk).
The morning azaan (call to prayer) marks the beginning of the fast. As the weather is hot and the days are long here, Ramadan in the summer season is challenging indeed. We drink a lot of water before the fast begins to stay hydrated during the day. After morning prayer, we recite the Muslim holy book of the Quran. During Ramadan all Muslims try to read the entire Quran at least once.
The daily fast lasts about 15 hours and the maghrib (evening) azaan marks the end of it. The fast is broken by eating dates and drinking a glass of water, followed by Iftar. While the menu depends on the family and region, it is typically a hearty one. Ours includes pakora, samosas, fruit chat, channa chat, mutton or chicken karahi, and different juices. We prefer to cook food at home and send some to our neighbors, who do the same with some of their own home-cooked dishes.
The last event of the day is the Tarawih prayer, which is performed after the Salat Al Isha (Night Prayer) during Ramadan. Lengthy sections of the Quran are recited out loud, either at home or at the Mosque. The 27th night of the month of Ramadan is considered the holiest night as it marks the revelation of the Quran by the Archangel Gabriel to Prophet Mohammed. This night is known as the Laylat-ul-Qadr or The Night of Power and special events are organized to spend the whole night praying till dawn.
Ramadan ends with the Eid festival (Eid al-Fitr), a holiday in Muslim countries. This is a day of celebration and family reunion, with festive gatherings that take place at home. The day starts with the Eid prayer, and it is obligatory for the Muslims to pay charity (Zakat-ul-Fitr) to the poor and needy people before the prayer. My family and I typically spend the Eid festival at our village. It gives us the opportunity to meet our relatives and enjoy some time off from the busy life of the city environment. After the Eid prayer, we pay a visit to our family members and relatives who are sick and confined to their homes. The atmosphere is one of celebration, with home-cooked food and sweets (gulab jamun, rus gullay, sweet vermicelli) served. On the second day of Eid, an Eid mela (gathering, fair) is organized for kids and families, where everyone enjoys various food and shopping stalls.
In summary, Ramadan is the month of introspection for Muslims. It is an opportunity to slow down, consume less food, think about the suffering of others and realize the blessings of God. All of these foster a sense of gratitude and make us spiritually happier and content with our lives.