The Quran states that “Ramadhan is the (month) in which was sent down the Quran, as a guide to mankind, also clear (signs) for guidance and judgement. So every one of you who is present (at his home) during that month should spend it in fasting ….” (Al-Baqarrah 2:184 ff)
Ramadan is the name of the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, it is derived from the root ramz, ‘to burn.’ The month is said to have been so called, either, because (before the change of the Arabic calendar) it used to occur in the hot season, or because the month’s fast is supposed to burn away the sins of men. Ramadan is the only month of the year mentioned in the Quran.
Traditional sayings of Muhammad concerning Ramadan
Muhammad extolled the virtues of this month and said that during Ramadan:
“the gates of the heaven are opened and the gates of Hell are closed and the devils are chained.” (Bukhari Volume 3 Book 31 Number 123)
Those who keep the fast “will be pardoned all their past venial sins”(Mishkat-al-Masabih book 7, chapter 1, part 1).
“Whoever prayed at night in it (the month of Ramadan) out of sincere faith and hoping for a reward from Allah, then all his previous sins will be forgiven.” (Bukhari Volume 3 Book 32 Number 226)
“There is a gate in Paradise called Ar-Raiyan, and those who observe fasts will enter through it on the Day of Resurrection and none except them will enter through it. It will be said, ‘Where are those who used to observe fasts?’ They will get up, and none except them will enter through it. After their entry the gate will be closed and nobody will enter through it.” (Bukhari Volume 3 Book 31 Number 120)
“Fasting is a shield or protection from the fire and from committing sins” ………… The unpleasant smell coming out from the mouth of a fasting person is better in the sight of Allah than the smell of musk. There are two pleasures for the fasting person, one at the time of breaking his fast, and the other at the time when he will meet his Lord; then he will be pleased because of his fasting.” (Bukhari Volume 3 Book 31 Number 128)
a) Muslims claim that major holidays of other faiths have largely become commercialised events but Ramadan retains its intense spiritual meaning.
b) It is seen by Allah alone.
c) Through increased devotion, Muslims feel closer to their Creator, and recognize that everything they have in this life is a blessing from Allah.
d) It defeats Satan as he feeds on the passions; therefore to fast is to shut off Satan’s attacks, for as Muhammad said “If the Shaitan did not fly around the hearts of men they would readily think of heaven,” fasting is therefore the gateway to divine service.
e) Through fasting, a Muslim experiences hunger and thirst, and sympathizes with those in the world who have little to eat every day.
f) Through increased charity (sadaqah), Muslims develop feelings of generosity and good-will toward others.
g) Through self-control, a Muslim practices good manners, good speech, and good habits.
h) Through changing routines, Muslims have a chance to establish more healthy lifestyle habits, particularly with regards to diet and smoking.
i) Through family and community gatherings, Muslims strengthen the bonds of brotherhood and sisterhood, in their own home.
The Legal Regulations
Muslims are required to abstain from eating, drinking and sexual intercourse between sunrise and sunset. All three activities are permitted at night-time “until the moment when you can distinguish the white thread from the black thread” (Al-Baqarrah 2:187).
The general obligation to fast begins on the first day of Ramadan after evidence has been given of the appearance of the new moon. The beginning of Ramadan has to be announced to the people in a way settled by local custom.
The law permits relaxations from fasting for those who have reached a certain age (men aged 40, women, not exactly defined), the sick, pregnant or nursing women (if they fear it would be dangerous for them to fast), certain categories of travellers, those who have to perform heavy manual labour (they should formulate the intention (niya) to fast in the night but may break the fast if necessary), and young children who have not reached the age of puberty.
Lailat al-Qadr (The Night of Power/Decree)
In the later part of the month of Ramadan we reach the Night of Power/Decree (Lailat al Qadr). On this night the Quran was said to have been brought down to the lowest heaven after which it was revealed to Muhammad in portions by Gabriel as the occasion required.
The Quran dedicates Sura 97 to this occasion: “We have indeed revealed this (message) in the Night of Power …. The Night of Power is better than a thousand months (83 years 4 months).” On this night the angels are said to be free from every commission and so full blessing falls upon the believers until ‘the rise of the morn.’
The lailat al-Qadr may also be referred to in sura Ad-Dukhan “A-Mim. By the book that makes things clear; We sent it down during a blessed night” (Ad Dukhan 44:1-3)
As for identifying the actual ‘Night of Power’ some difficulties occur for it is said to be either on the 21st, 23rd, 25th, 27th, or 29th, many Islamic doctors prefer the 27th. The pious therefore use all the odd nights of the last ten days of Ramadan for good works for at least one of them will be Lailat al Qadr and blessing will result in observing that night.
On this night the Muslim is expected, in their mother tongue to perform additional prayers, read the Quran, pray for forgiveness and ask Allah for blessing in one’s deeds.
Other important days for Muslims in the month of Ramadan
6th- – Birthday of the martyr Husain
10th – The day of the death of Khadijah
17th – The day of the Battle of Badr
19th – The day of the occupation of Mecca
21st – The day of Ali’s death
22nd – The day of the birthday of Ali
The origin of the Fast of Ramadan in Islam
Muslims trace the origin of the Ramadan fast to the ancient Arab fast of ‘Ashura observed on the tenth day of Muharram. It is related that Muhammad observed it, and said it was a day respected by Jews and Christians (Mishkat 7 chapter 7.1)
The tendency of tradition is to trace all Islamic customs back to the ancient Arabs or particularly to Abraham. A hadith states – “Narrated ‘Aisha (The tribe of) Qurraish used to fast on the day of Ashura’ in the Pre-lslamic period, and then Allah’s Apostle ordered (Muslims) to fast on it till the fasting in the month of Ramadan was prescribed; whereupon the Prophet said, ‘He who wants to fast (on ‘Ashura’) may fast, and he who does not want to fast may not fast.’” (Bukhari Volume 3, Book 31, Number 117)
It is possible that the first nine days of Muharram did possess a certain holiness among the ancient Arabs. ‘Ashura is now the name given for a voluntary fast which is observed on the 10th of Muharram.
It is however, likely that when Muhammad came to Medina he adopted from the Jews, amongst other days, the ’Ashura. The name is Hebraic and the Jewish custom was to observe the fast on this day from sunset to sunset, and not as in other fasts during the day. When Muhammad’s relationship with the Jews became strained, Ramadan was chosen as the fast month.
Some have suggested that Muhammad got the idea of this long fasting period from the observance of Lent in the Eastern Church for it was exceedingly strict, both in regard to the nights as well as the days of that season of abstinence. Muhammad then relaxed the rules regarding the night so that he could truthfully say: “God would make the fast an ease and not a difficulty.”