Today, thousands of Muslims everywhere will begin what is to be considered the most important month in Islam. Considering we live in a religiously diverse city, chances are hundreds of fellow Austinites are preparing as well. It’s called Ramadan, a month-long observation of fasting. For the next 30 days, Muslims will refrain from eating, drinking, and sexual activities from dawn until sunset.
So what makes this religious observance so important to Islam? Ramadan is a “purifying” month; a chance for Muslims to ask forgiveness of sins and “cleanse” themselves before Allah (the Arabic name for God). At the end of the day, they will break the fast (called “Magharib” or sunset). Usually, families will gather and have a meal called “Iftar,” usually serving dates and a special milk drink. By doing these good deeds, a Muslim will make themselves a more worthy person; more likely to one day participate in heavenly rewards.
To give you a little bit of history, Ramadan is believed to have been the month where the first few verses of the Qur’an were revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. The exact timing of Ramadan changes yearly, according to the solar calendar. Most countries will wait for the official beginning of Ramadan to be proclaimed by the religious authorities in Mecca, Saudi Arabia.
Muslims vary in how strict they act during Ramadan. In some countries (like Oman, for example) Muslims will not even swallow their spit during the day. If a person is not able to participate in the fast (like those who are very ill or elderly), they can “repay” by paying the cost of Iftar for those less fortunate or by hosting a dinner. Women who breastfeed during Ramadan can fast later during the year.
At the end of the month, Muslims will celebrate Eid Al-Fitr (literally “celebration of the breaking of the fast”). It can last for three to four days and is a celebration of feasting and visiting family. Gifts are purchases, new clothes are brought, and there is a celebratory feeling in the air.
For many believers from a Muslim background, Ramadan can be the hardest time of year. Spiritual oppression is rampant and discouragement can easily set in. Especially for those living in secrecy about their faith, Ramadan can be extremely dangerous if they do not fast alongside their family.
Author: Paige Bennett