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Here’s everything you need to know about the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
Article Credit: Yahoo
What is Ramadan?
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar in which Muslim fulfil one of the five pillars of Islam - sawm (fasting). This is obligatory for all adult, sane and able-bodied Muslims. During the 29 or 30 days of Ramadan, Muslims fast by abstaining from eating, drinking, smoking and engaging in sexual relations from sunrise to sunset.
Ramadan is a sacred time for worship and concentration on the Islamic faith, in addition to everyday activities. Muslims strengthen their willpower by abstaining from eating, drinking and bad habits with the aim of becoming a better person, with increased patience, gratitude, humility, generosity and heightened consciousness.
When does Ramadan begin?
Since Islam follows a lunar calendar, the start of a month depends on the birth of the new moon. The beginning of Ramadan is determined by Moon Sighting Committees in some countries like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. These designated groups train their eyes towards the sky for an actual physical sighting of the moon.
Most Asian countries determine the beginning of Ramadan by the calculation of the position of the moon at sunset. If the moon is two degrees above the horizon and three degrees away from the sun, then the new month has begun.
In Egypt, if the moon sets five minutes after sunset, they consider it to be seen (i.e. they do not require a physical sighting). Some countries follow the date declared by other Muslim countries, particularly Saudi Arabia.
What is a fast and how is it completed?
A Muslim fast lasts from dawn till dusk and requires a person to refrain from eating, drinking and sexual relations. A Muslim is also expected to be on their best behaviour, cleansing themselves of any bad habits.
The first step to fasting is niyyah, or intention, which is essential and should be made daily, preferably before dawn of each day in Ramadan. This is followed by suhoor, a light pre-dawn meal, recommended before actually fasting. Any consumption of food or drink should cease before the onset of dawn until sunset, when the fast is broken with a meal called iftar. This usually consists of a light snack of dates or desserts, traditional foods and water, fresh juice or milk.
At the end of a successful fast, Muslims attend special night-time voluntary prayers known as tarawih. Some people go to bed after tarawih prayers, so they can get up early for suhoor meals. Many people, particularly from the younger generation, prefer to visit special tents with friends for a night of socialising, which can run right up to suhoor.
What invalidates a fast?
A fast is broken during the day with intentional consumption of food, drink or medicine, smoking or taking an injection which has some nutritional value such as glucose. It is also invalidated by sexual relations, voluntary vomiting, menstruation or postnatal birth bleeding.
However, if one eats or drinks accidentally, a fast is not broken. Other things that do not invalidate the fast include unintentional vomiting; unavoidable swallowing, such as one's own saliva; brushing teeth and liquids taken through an injection or intravenously, solely for medicinal purposes.
Who is obligated to fast?
Fasting during Ramadan is obligatory for every adult Muslim who is physically and mentally able. However, there are some exemptions. The ill, the elderly, travellers, pregnant or menstruating women and children who have not started puberty do not need to fast.
Those who are too old and feeble to fast are exempt, but are encouraged to offer a compensatory act, which is either feeding at least one needy Muslim daily or donating money of equivalent value. If a Muslim misses a fast due to illness, they are expected to make up for it on a later date when they are well again. Likewise, menstruating, expectant or nursing women and travellers must make up for missed fasts.
A month of prayer and devotion
Ramadan is a time for self-control, repentance, reflection and remembrance of Allah. Muslims spend their time in prayer, asking for forgiveness and blessings.
The main purpose of fasting is described in the Quran is "so that you may attain taqwa or God-consciousness" and Ramadan is known to be a month of heightened devotion when prayer is performed with greater intensity. In the last 10 days of Ramadan, some Muslims retreat to the mosque to perform itikaf (prayer in seclusion), which is a period of total devotion spent in prayer and reflection.
Another special prayer during Ramadan is on the night of Laylat Al Qadr (the night of power), which is the night the Quran was first revealed to mankind. The exact date of Laylat Al Qadr is unknown, but it is believed to fall on one of the odd nights of the last 10 days of Ramadan (21st, 23rd, 25th, 27th or 29th ). As mentioned in the Quran, Laylat Al Qadr is better than a thousand months, so praying on this night gets extra reward.
Thousands of people around the world also prefer to go to the holy cities of Mecca or Madinah during Ramadan for the ritual pilgrimage known as Umrah, although they can perform this any time of the year. This requires long-term planning and preparation in order to arrive ready for prayers, free from any worldly commitments.
The month of Ramadan is an opportunity to develop qualities of endurance and self-restraint, to control anger, to fine-tune the body and benefit from the therapeutic effects fasting may have. It also is a month for spiritual elevation through additional prayers and devotion.
What happens after Ramadan ends?
The end of Ramadan is marked by a three-day celebration known as Eid Al Fitr. The day is marked with congregational prayers and joyous festivities where Muslims don their best clothes, visit friends and family and cook special meals.
Muslims then return to their lives, hopefully refreshed and rejuvenated, with their faith renewed.
Click here for the 411 on Ramadan Rules in Kuwait
Muslim friends: Wishing you and yours a blessed Holy month and a very happy Ramadan. See you real soon Kuwait!