Column: Wishing All A Blessed Ramadan

June 8, 2016

[Opinion column written by Shabnam Jheengoor]

This week, Muslims around the world welcomed the month Ramadan, where believers fast from sunrise to sunset each day for 29 or 30 days. Described by the Vatican as an opportunity for “human and spiritual growth”, fasting is part of an ancient tradition found in many world religions, and is one of the five pillars of Islam.

The month Ramadan begins and ends with the sighting of the new moon. Traditionally, the practice was to observe the new moon with the bare eye. Nowadays, astronomical calculations are often used to determine the new moon. However, the actual sighting of the moon still takes precedence over calculations and thus, if the moon is sighted earlier than predicted than the calculations, the start of the fast is determined by the sighting and not by calculations.

Since the fast lasts from sunrise to sunset, believers in countries where the sun shines continuously for up to 22 hours a day may face serious challenges during the fast. To lessen the hardship of these believers, Islam allows these communities to estimate the duration of the daily fast with reference to nearby countries. Thus, these communities would fast for around 18 to 19 hours daily, breaking the fast before the actual sunset.

Believers who fast are strongly encouraged to have “Suhoor”, which is a pre-dawn breakfast before beginning the fast. Fasting on an empty stomach was discouraged by the Holy Prophet Muhammad [pbuh]. It is permissible to partake of Suhoor until daylight breaks from the horizon. The meal taken at sunset to break the fast is known as “Iftaar”. There is no prohibition on enjoying good food for Suhoor and Iftaar, as long as one does so in moderation.

Numerous sayings of the Holy Prophet Muhammad [pbuh] recount the benefits of fasting and the conditions one must abide by to reap the rewards of the fast. Merely starving oneself serves no purpose. Ramadan, being the month of self-reflection and self-reformation, requires believers to shun worldly and carnal desires.

Believers are enjoined to eschew bad habits and anything that divert their attention from the remembrance of God. Thus, there is an emphasis on avoiding vain talk, quarrels and fights and any such activity which is below the dignity of a true believer.

In Islam, alms-giving and care for the destitute is so highly emphasised that it becomes part of a Muslim’s daily life. However, when it comes to Ramadan, Muslims are required to redouble their efforts in this field. The focus of Ramadan is on the remembrance of God’s favors and blessings and on serving God’s creation.

The Holy Quran was revealed to the Holy Prophet Muhammad [pbuh] in the month of Ramadan. The night in which the Holy Quran began to be revealed is referred in the Holy Quran as the “blessed night” [“Laylatul Qadar” in Arabic]. Muslims pay special attention for the recitation of the Holy Quran throughout the month of Ramadan.

In the last 10 days many Muslims observe the “Itikaf” which is to confine oneself in a mosque for prayers, leaving the worldly activities. Moreover, in the last days Muslims increase in worship to reap maximum blessings from the “blessed night”.

As with every act and ritual recommended in Islam, fasting is not meant to cause hardship to believers, but rather as explained before serves as a spiritual, moral and physical cleansing. The Holy Quran states: “Allah desires to give you facility and He desires not hardship for you.” [Ch2:v186].

Therefore, while fasting is obligatory for all healthy adults, there are concessions for individuals who can fast only with great difficulty. There are also circumstances where one is prohibited from fasting. Fasting in a state of sickness and travel is prohibited. Fasting is allowed if the travel away from home is for more than 3 days, but one should not fast on the actual days of travel. Women who are pregnant, breast feeding or menstruating are prohibited from fasting. Likewise, the elderly or individuals who are unwell and weak are not required to fast.

The expiation for individuals who are prevented or prohibited to fast is the feeding of a poor person. This is known as “Fidya” and the Fidya rate is the cost of one’s individual food. Missed fasts can be completed afterwards when one’s circumstances are more favourable.

In addition, Islamic law does not lay down a specific age for one to begin fasting. Children who have reached puberty are allowed to fast for one or two days but continuous fasting for the whole month is discouraged as it can affect the child’s development. Thus, usually it is around 18 years of age that one starts fasting regularly. It is unfortunate that some children as young as 10 years are forced to fast and threatened with punishment if they break their fast.

Compelling children to fast is sinful and is against Islamic teachings. Since the purpose of fasting is self-reflection and self-reformation rather than merely starving oneself, one must be physically, intellectually and spiritually developed enough to benefit from the fast. Forcing children to fast brings them no benefit but rather can cause them serious harm.

Ramadan is beneficial as long as one follows the conditions and regulations laid down by God. Bringing hardship upon others, such as forcing young children to fast or bringing hardship upon oneself by insisting on fasting when one is sick despite explicit commandment not to fast, do not bring any spiritual rewards. The reward lies in faithful obedience to God’s commandments.

Wishing all a blessed Ramadan!

- Shabnam Jheengoor, Ahmadiyya Muslim Community Bermuda


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Comments (2)

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  1. I have always admired what happens during this time collectively and World wide by the Muslim community during the moth of Ramadan, equally as the Christian community does the same every January.

    When we can set aside time as a community to come before our creator as a collective group of people, we know the end result is always favorable upon us as a community and believers. Let us also remember we don’t stop individually as we should go as often as once a week in our personal lives to present ourselves in like manner, were it becomes a more one on one with whom we serve.

  2. Build a Better Bermuda says:

    And many blessing to our Islamic brothers and sisters during this holy time of theirs.

    Hope I get this right

    Assalamu Alaikom
    السلام عليكم