Introduction to Ramadan
Fasting the lunar month of Ramadan is such an important Pillar of Islam that
Muslims believe that if one dies without having made up the missed fasts, the
guardian (or heir) must make them up, for they are a debt owed to Allah. The
Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) said, ''Whoever observes
fasts during the month of Ramadan out of sincere faith, and hoping to attain
Allah's rewards, then all his past sins will be forgiven.'' (reported by Al-Bukhari)
Muslims believe that the influence of the devils on the believers who obey
Allah is diminished. Muhammad said, ''When the month of Ramadan starts, the
gates of the heaven are opened and the gates of Hell are closed and the devils
are chained.'' (reported by Al-Bukhari)
Month of the Qur'an
Muslims believe that the first verses of the Qur'an (Surat Al-`Alaq 96:1-5)
were revealed in the month of Ramadan while Muhammad was in spiritual retreat
in the cave of Hira outside of Makkah. Years later when the fast of Ramadan
was made compulsory, the Angel Jibreel used to sit with Muhammad every day
during Ramadan so that the latter could recite all that had been revealed so
far of the Qur'an. In his final year, the Prophet recited the entire Qur'an
twice in Ramadan.
Muslims continue the tradition of reading the entire Qur'an at least once
during Ramadan. In Muslim countries, it is not at all unusual in this month to
see many people reading the Qur'an while riding the bus or metro to and from
work. Others find time early in the morning, late at night, or at intervals
throughout the day.
Many others read or recite the Qur'an during Tarawih Prayers, which are held
only during Ramadan, or in private late night Prayers called Tahajjud.
Muslims who cannot yet read Arabic well, spend some time each day listening to
a tape or CD of the Qur'an being recited. Muslims consider Ramadan to be a
good time to get into the habit of reading at least some of the Qur'an or its
translation every day, and if they haven't read either of them cover to cover,
Ramadan is the time to do it.
Other Acts of Worship
In addition to reading the Qur'an, Muslims try to spend more time in dhikr
(remembrance of Allah) during this month and make an effort to perform Tarawih
Prayer, preferably in congregation. Muslims also sometimes perform the late
night Prayer called Tahajjud. They may do this before or after eating the
pre-dawn meal, just before the Fajr (Dawn) Prayer.
Ramadan is also a favorite time for `Umrah - a visit to the Ka`bah in Makkah.
When performed in Ramadan, `Umrah takes the same reward as Hajj (but it does
not replace the obligatory Hajj).
How Muslims Fast
According to Muslims, fasting means abstaining not only from food and drink,
but also from sexual intercourse, lying, arguing, and back-biting. While
fasting, Muslims must be careful to restrain their tongues, temper, and even
their gaze. Ramadan is the time for Muslims to learn to control themselves and
to develop their spiritual side.
Basically, Muslims try to have a pre-dawn meal, known as sahur, before they
begin fasting. The fast lasts from dawn to sunset. As soon as the sun has set,
Muslims break their fast without delay. Generally, Muslims may break their
fast with a small amount of food — the sunnah is to do so with an odd number
of dates — and then perform the Maghrib (Sunset) Prayer before eating a full
For more information on the rules of fasting, including who is exempted, see
The Meaning and Rules of Fasting.
Charity in Ramadan
Ramadan is also the month of charity. Muhammad said, ''…Whoever draws nearer
(to Allah) by performing any of the (optional) good deeds in (this month),
shall receive the same reward as performing an obligatory deed at any other
time; and whoever performs an obligatory deed in (this month), shall receive
the reward of performing seventy obligations at any other time. It is the
month of patience, and the reward of patience is Paradise. It is the month of
charity, and a month in which a believer's sustenance is increased. Whoever
gives food to a fasting person to break his fast shall have his sins forgiven,
and he will be saved from the Hell-Fire, and he shall have the same reward as
the fasting person, without his reward being diminished at all.'' (Reported by
Ibn `Abbas, one of Muhammad's Companions, narrated: ''The Prophet was the most
generous amongst the people, and he used to be more so in the month of Ramadan
when Jibreel visited him, and Jibreel used to meet him on every night of
Ramadan till the end of the month. The Prophet used to recite the Holy Qur'an
to Jibreel, and when Jibreel met him, he used to be more generous than a fast
wind (which causes rain and welfare).'' (Reported by Al-Bukhari)
Thus Muslims should try to give generously in Ramadan, both sadaqah (optional
charity) and zakat al-mal (obligatory charity). Sadaqah does not only have to
be money. It can also be a good deed—such as helping another person—done for
the sake of Allah and without expecting any reward from the person. Most
Muslims pay their zakah during Ramadan because the reward is so much greater
in that month.
It is obligatory for every Muslim to pay a small amount of zakat al-fitr
before the end of Ramadan. This money is collected and given to the poorest of
the poor so that they may also enjoy the festivities on `Eid Al-Fitr.
And because of the great reward for feeding a fasting person, in many places
iftar (the break-fast meal at sunset) is served in mosques, with the food
donated or brought by individuals to share pot-luck style. In some Muslim
countries, tables are set up on the sidewalks or outside of mosques to serve
iftar to the poor and others. Such traditions also build a sense of
brotherhood and community.
Families and friends also like to share iftar. However, sometimes this
generosity is exaggerated so that Ramadan becomes a month of lavish tables and
This goes against the spirit of Ramadan and should be avoided. (See also:
Distinguishing Culture from Religion in Ramadan)
The Last Third
Muslims also believe that the last ten days of Ramadan are the holiest of all,
and try to make even greater efforts at that time to increase their worship.
The holiest night of all, Laylat Al-Qadr, falls on one of the odd numbered
nights of the last ten days.
The public celebration at the end of Ramadan, on the first day of the month of
Shawwal, is called `Eid Al-Fitr. After sunset on the 29th of Ramadan, Muslims
wait for the announcement of whether the new moon has been sighted, which
means that Ramadan is finished and the next day is `Eid. In that case, there
are no Tarawih Prayers that night. If the moon has not been sighted, then
there is one more day of fasting and the Tarawih Prayers are performed.
The `Eid is celebrated with public Prayers and a sermon, often followed by
some form of halal (lawful) celebration such as games for the children or
sweets shared by everyone. It is a happy day for all. Although `Eid Al-Fitr
lasts only one day, in Muslim countries, schools, offices, and shops are often
closed for two or three days.
It's Not Over Till It's Over
If any of the days of fasting were missed, they must be made up before the
next Ramadan. Muslims generally should try to make them up as soon as possible
because any days that are missed are considered as a debt to Allah. Muslims
believe that if someone dies without having made up the fasts, the guardian or
heir should fast the remaining days.
For Muslims, it is a sunnah to fast six days during the month of Shawwal, the
lunar month immediately following Ramadan. Muslims believe that if a Muslim
fasts all of Ramadan and then fasts any six days in Shawwal, the reward will
be as if he or she has fasted the whole year. Many Muslims do take advantage
of this mercy from Allah.
AElfwine Mischler is an American convert to Islam. She has undergraduate
degrees in physics and English, and a master's degree in linguistics and
teaching English as a foreign language.