Ramadan is the 10th month of the Islamic calendar, known as the Hijra calendar. The calendar derives its name from the Hijra (migration) of Prophet Muhammad*, from Mecca to Madina. The Muslim calendar consists of 12 months and each month commences with the sighting of the new moon. This means the Hijra year is shorter than the Gregorian year. The actual fixing of the years according to the Hijra calendar was not set until the Caliphate of Umar bin Al-Khattab. During Ramadan, all able Muslims, male and female, are required to fast from Fajr, dawn, to Maghrib, sunset. Fasting consists of refraining from eating, drinking and marital relations during the fasting hours. Women who are pregnant or menstruating are excused, as are all travelers. After sunset until dawn, Muslims may partake of these activities. The fasting continues for the entire month.

Fasting was prescribed for a specific reason, which has been stated in Sura (chapter) Al-Baqara as follows:

“O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed to those before you, that you may attain Taqwa (God-Consciousness, self-restraint, piety).” (2: 183)

This verse clearly states that the purpose of fasting is to increase Taqwa. Taqwa is a difficult word to translate and has been translated as self-restraint and God-consciousness. It is a state whereby human beings are aware of God’s existence, their purpose in life and are focused on fulfilling that purpose as best they can. The purpose of humanity is stated in Sura At-Thariyat as follows:

“And I (God) created the Jinn and mankind, that they should worship Me (Alone). I do not seek sustenance from them (i.e., provision for themselves or for My creatures) nor do I require that they should feed Me (i.e., feed themselves or My creatures). For God is the All-Provider (source of all sustenance), Owner of Power, the Most Strong.” (51: 56-58)

God has created humanity for the sole purpose of worshipping Him. This means we should not become misguided, forgetting the purpose of life and becoming immersed in worldly and material endeavors to the exclusion of our spiritual well-being. Those have their place, but must not become the purpose of our existence. Fasting is a means of helping us refocus on our purpose. It removes indulgence in food and other pleasures for a period of time, freeing us to concentrate on our purpose in life. Along with fasting, we are also recommended to increase our recitation of the Noble Quran, increase our voluntary prayers, increase our remembrance of God, increase our supplications and make an extra effort to avoid speaking ill of others or gossiping.

Ramadan is an opportunity to examine our lives and implement the laws and ideals prescribed to make our today’s better and to help secure a peaceful place in the eternal life to come.

As with all Islamic practices, there is a balance between dedicated acts of worship and other activities that don’t appear to be related to worship. (For a Muslim, all activities can be made into acts of worship, if they are moral, beneficial and performed with the intention of pleasing God). God speaks of this balance in Surat Al-Baqara, stating:

“It is permitted for you to enjoy your wives during the night of the fasts. They are Libas (garments, screens, body covers) for you and you are Libas for them. Allah knows that you used to deceive yourselves but He accepted your repentance and forgave you; so now associate with them, and seek what Allah has ordained for you (offspring), and eat and drink until the white thread (light) of dawn appears to you distinct from its black thread (darkness of night); then complete your fast till the night appears; but do not associate with your wives while you are in retreat in the mosques. Those are limits (set by) Allah so do not approach them. Thus does Allah make clear His Signs to mankind: that they may attain Taqwa.” (Al-Baqara: 187)

Thus we are allowed to eat and enjoy our family life, even during Ramadan, but at the proper time and in the proper way. This gives us more time for contemplation and remembrance of God (Dhikr) and other activities in the pursuit of Taqwa. In other verses of the Quran, God teaches us that when one attains Taqwa, God will provide a way out of all difficulties and sustenance from sources he could not even imagine. Attaining Taqwa is a marvelous state, for with a guaranteed way out of all difficulties and assurance of sustenance, one will feel peace and security. Reaping this reward requires effort and sacrifice and Ramadan and fasting have been granted as an aid to help us on the path to Taqwa.

At the same time, we have been permitted to eat at night, since we must eat to maintain our strength for worship. Also, we are permitted to enjoy our spouses since this is a normal human urge, which must be satisfied in a moral manner.

We can learn other lessons which Ramadan brings for each of us. Some of us may identify with the poor and needy and be more generous in charitable contributions during this time. Others take time off of work to spend more time reciting and memorizing the Quran. Still others may make a greater effort to be tolerant, even when their rights are violated. We can all certainly use the ‘shot in the arm’ that Ramadan provides. As the Prophet said: The losers are the ones who complete Ramadan without having gained anything but the deprivation of the fast.

Not everyone is able to fast and those who are exempted from fasting, either temporarily or permanently are mentioned in the Quran, along with any compensation they must make.

As has been the case for many years now, we continue to witness famine, suffering and war in many places of the world, both among Muslims and non-Muslims. We ask God to help guide us to the path He has chosen for us and to give all of mankind the gift of peace and security. Ramadan Mubarak to all our friends, readers and the entire Muslim Ummah.

*Editor’s Note:

1) The Arabic words ‘Subhanahu wa ta’ala, (Glory be to Him)’ are recited by Muslims at every mention of the word Allah, the Arabic name for God.

2) Muslims pronounce the words ‘May Peace and Blessings be Upon him’ after every mention of the Prophet Muhammad.