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Saturday, July 28, 2012

Glossary: Sawm, or Siyam - Ramadan Fasting

Definition: Sawm, or fasting during Ramadan, is one of the Five Pillars of Islam, the five duties required of every practicing Muslim.

Aside from the five-times-daily prayer, fasting during the month of Ramadan is the most visible and recognizable of Muslim acts the world over. During the 30-odd days of Ramadan, Muslims are required to fast during daylight hours, drinks included, and abstain from bodily pleasures like sex or other forms of sensual abandon. The focus is on humility, spiritual oneness with God and social oneness with the umma, or Islamic community, across the globe.

Fasting in Islam has its origins in Judaism, Christianity and the pre-Islamic Arab world. Although Ramadan is when Muslims fast most, they may fast voluntarily the rest of the year, or fast three days a month, or six days during the month of Sawwal, which follows the month of Ramadan, or fast on Mondays and Thursdays. Each of these proscriptions is recognized in Islam.
 
Traditional Muslims may also fast to atone for specific sins, the way Catholics recite rosaries or follow their priest’s instructions to atone. For example, failing to honor an oath or accidentally killing a Muslim may be mitigated by fasting. Sufis, as rigorous in their spiritual exercises as Jesuits, consider fasting part of their religious calisthenics.

In the Quran

 

Chapter 2, Revelation 185 of the Quran states:

The month of Ramadan is that in which was revealed the Quran; a guidance for mankind, and clear proofs of the guidance, and the criterion (of right and wrong). And whosoever of you is present, let him fast the month, and whosoever of you is sick or on a journey, a number of other days. Allah desires for you ease; He desires not hardship for you; and that you should complete the period, and that you should magnify Allah for having guided you, and that perhaps you may be thankful.
Thus, according to the Quran, Prophet Muhammad first received revelations in the lunar month of Ramadan. Therefore, the month of Ramadan is considered to be the most sacred month of the Islamic calendar, the recording of which began with the Hijra.

Beginning of Ramadan


Hilāl (the crescent) is typically a day (or more) after the astronomical new moon. Since the new moon indicates the beginning of the new month, Muslims can usually safely estimate the beginning of Ramadan. However, to many Muslims, this is not in accordance with authenticated Hadiths stating that visual confirmation per region is recommended. The consistent variations of a day have existed since the time of Muhammad.

 

Practices during Ramadan


Fasting

Ramadan is a time of spiritual reflection, improvement and increased devotion and worship. Muslims are expected to put more effort into following the teachings of Islam. The fast (sawm) begins at dawn and ends at sunset. In addition to abstaining from eating and drinking, Muslims also increase restraint, such as abstaining from sexual relations and generally sinful speech and behavior. The act of fasting is said to redirect the heart away from worldly activities, its purpose being to cleanse the soul by freeing it from harmful impurities. Ramadan also teaches Muslims how to better practice self-discipline, self-control, sacrifice, and empathy for those who are less fortunate; thus encouraging actions of generosity and charity (zakat).

It becomes compulsory for Muslims to start fasting when they reach puberty, so long as they are healthy, sane and have no disabilities or illnesses. Exemptions to fasting are travel, menstruation, illness, older age, pregnancy, and breast-feeding. However, many Muslims with medical conditions insist on fasting to satisfy their spiritual needs, and healthcare professionals must work with their patients to reach common ground. Professionals should closely monitor individuals who decide to persist with fasting.

While fasting is not considered compulsory in childhood, many children endeavour to complete as many fasts as possible as practice for later life. Those who are unable to fast are obliged to make up for it. According to the Quran, those ill or traveling (musaafir) are exempt from obligation, but still must make up the days missed later on.

 

Health effects


Fasting does not pose any medical risks to healthy individuals. In fact, Sarah Amer, MS, RD, CDN, says, “The body has the incredible ability to adapt.” She reveals that it takes her only a few days of fasting to get back to her usual activity level. A team of cardiologists in the UAE found that people observing Ramadan enjoy a positive effect on their lipid profile, which means there is a reduction of cholesterol in the blood. 

 

Suhoor


Each day before dawn, Muslims observe a pre-fast meal called Suhoor. Considering the high diversity of the global Muslim community (ummah), it is impossible to describe typical suhoor or iftaar meals. It can be anything halal - from dinner or iftar leftovers to typical breakfast foods to various ethnic food preferences. A few dates and a cup of water are usually the first foods to break the fast, while fried pastries, salads, nuts, legumes, and breads are also common. After stopping a short time before dawn, Muslims hasten to pray the first prayer of the day, the Fajr prayer.

 

Iftar


Iftar in Sultan Ahmed Mosque in Istanbul,Turkey

At sunset, families hasten for the fast-breaking meal known as Iftar. Considering the high diversity of the global muslim population, it is impossible to describe typical suhur or iftar meals. Suhur can be dinner, or iftar, leftovers, typical breakfast foods, or ethnic foods. Social gatherings, many times buffet style, at iftar are frequent, and traditional dishes are often highlighted. A few dates and a cup of water are usually the first foods to break the fast, while fried pastries, salads, nuts, legumes, and breads are common. Traditional desserts are often unavoidable, especially those made only during Ramadan. Water is usually the beverage of choice, but juice and milk are also consumed. Soft drinks and caffeinated beverages are consumed to a lesser extent.

In the Middle East, the Iftar meal consists of water, juices, dates, salads and appetizers, one or more entrees, and dessert. Typical entrees are "lamb stewed with wheat berries, lamb kebabs with grilled vegetables, or roast chicken served with chickpea-studded rice pilaf". A rich dessert such as baklava or kunafeh ("a buttery, syrup-sweetened kadaifi noodle pastry filled with cheese") concludes the meal.

Over time, iftar has grown into banquet festivals. This is a time of fellowship with families, friends and surrounding communities, but may also occupy larger spaces at masjid or banquet halls for 100 or more diners.

For many around the world, iftar starts with the eating of one or more (usually three) dates – as Prophet Muhammad used to do. Following that, Muslims adjourn for the Maghrib prayer, the fourth of the five daily prayers, after which the main meal is served.

 

Charity

Charity is very important in Islam, and even more so during Ramadan. Zakat, often translated as "the poor-rate", is obligatory as one of the pillars of Islam; a fixed percentage required to be given by those with savings. Sadaqa is voluntary charity in given above and beyond what is required from the obligation of zakat. In Islam all good deeds are more handsomely rewarded in Ramadan than in any other month of the year.

Consequently, many will choose this time to give a larger portion, if not all, of the zakat for which they are obligated to give. In addition, many will also use this time to give a larger portion of sadaqa in order to maximize the reward that will await them on the Day of Judgment.

In many Muslim countries, it is a common sight to see people giving more food to the poor and the homeless, and even to see large public areas for the poor to come and break their fast. It is said that if a person helps a fasting person to break their fast, then they receive a reward for that fast, without diminishing the reward that the fasting person got for their fast.

 

Increased prayer and recitation of the Quran


In addition to fasting, Muslims are encouraged to read the entire Quran. Some Muslims perform the recitation of the entire Quran by means of special prayers, called Tarawih. These voluntary prayers are held in the mosques every night of the month, during which a whole section of the Quran (Juz', which is 1/30 of the Quran) is recited. Therefore, the entire Quran would be completed at the end of the month. Although, it is not required to read the whole Quran in the Salatul Tarawih prayers, it is common.

 

Laylat al-Qadr


Sometimes referred to as "the night of power", Laylat al-Qadr is considered the most holy night of the year.

This is the night in which the Quran was first revealed to the prophet Muhammad, as stated in Chapter 97 of the Qu'ran. Also, generally, Laylat al-Qadr is believed to have occurred on an odd-numbered night during the last 10 days of Ramadan, i.e., either the night of the 21st, 23rd, 25th, 27th or 29th.

 

End of Ramadan

 

Eid ul-Fitr


The Muslim holiday of Eid ul-Fitr (Arabic: عيد الفطر‎, "festivity of breaking the fast"), sometimes spelled in English as Eid al-Fitr, marks the end of Ramadan and the beginning of the next lunar month called Shawwal in Arabic. This first day of the following month is declared after another crescent new moon has been sighted or the completion of 30 days of fasting if no visual sighting is possible due to weather conditions. This first day of Shawwal is called Eid ul-Fitr. Eid Ul-Fitr may also be a reference towards the festive nature of having endured the month of fasting successfully and returning to the more natural disposition (fitra) of being able to eat, drink and resume intimacy with spouses during the day.
Cultural aspects

 

Decorations


Various cultural additions are mistakenly associated as part of the original celebrations arising from the time of Muhammad, as many of the forms of celebration in various cultures and countries have added. For example, no symbols of Ramadan were evident in any scholarly literature of Muhammad's lifetime, yet in some places Ramadan is met with various decorations throughout the streets.

For example, in some Muslim countries today lights are strung up in public squares, and across city streets, to add to the festivities of the month. In Egypt, lanterns have become symbolic of Ramadan. They are hung across the cities of Egypt, part of an 800 year old tradition, the origin of which is said to lie in the Fatimid era where the Caliph Al-Muizz Lideenillah was greeted by people holding lanterns to celebrate his ruling. From that time lanterns were used to light mosques and houses throughout the city. In the West, many Muslim households have taken to decorating the inside of their homes to make Ramadan a more special time for their children. Usually parents buy new clothes and toys for their children or give them money.

 

Origin of the word Ramadan


The Ramadan, as a name for the month, is of Islamic origin. Some scholars have made claims that Ramadan existed before Islam as one of the twelve months of the Arabic lunar calendar. However, prior to Islam and the exclusion of intercalary days from the Islamic calendar, the name of the month was Natiq and the month fell in the warm season.

The first revelation to Muhammad was sent down during this month. Furthermore, God proclaimed to Muhammad that fasting for His Sake was not a new innovation in monotheism, but rather an obligation practiced by those truly devoted to The Oneness of God. One such example of those who observed fasting before Islam were the Jews who had migrated to Medinah awaiting the foretold unlettered Prophet. This may or may not be referring to the Jewish practice of fasting on Yom Kippur. It is possible that the obligation to fast during Ramadan comes from early injunction to fast on Ashura, the 10th day of the month of Muharram, which may have once been identical with the Jewish observance of the Day of Atonement.[31] Whether or not fasting on that day was obligatory, today, it still not uncommon for Muslims to fast that day voluntarily.

 

Pre-Islamic observation of Ramadan


Abu Zanad, an Arabic writer from Iraq who lived around 747 A.D. (after the founding of Islam), wrote that at least one Mandaean community located in northern Iraq observed Ramadan. Abdel Allah ibn Zakwan Abi al-Zanad claims that Ramadan originally had roots in India and the Middle East. He said that it is evident from Abu Zanadwritings, that Ramadan was a pagan ceremony practiced by the Sabians, whether they were Mandaeans or Harranians.

During pre-Islamic times the month of Ramadan was observed in Arabia, as a month when the various tribes observed a truce from any existing hostilities. Those days are commonly referred to as Jahilliyah, as Muhammad used to call those times himself. Ever since the Prophethood of Muhammad, Ramadan became associated with religious monotheism, and has been observed as such ever since.

Source: Wikipedia

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