A Holy Month
Muslims worldwide celebrate Ramadan every year on the 9th lunar month of the Islamic calendar. It is religious time of devotion where we become close to Allah, through fasting and purification, where we give ourselves to God, our spirituality and the people around us. Many benefits can come from fasting, especially in this month where the rewards are multiplied.
The Quran says that fasting is important to help us develop God consciousness through self-control, while remembering and assisting the poor, the hungry and the sick.
Fasting helps cleanse the body and purify the mind. During this holy month of Ramadan we read, recite and listen to the Holy Quran to help purify our thoughts and calm our hearts and minds. It is a time to cast away bad habits, and negative thinking so that we may become closer to God.
From puberty onwards, Muslims respecting Ramadan must not eat, drink or smoke between the hours of dawn and dusk. We keep the fast for 29-30 days of the month – dependent on the stages of the crescent moon. Our days are spent reading the Quran and praying, as well as going about our normal everyday life. If we have jobs we still work and fast at the same time.
When Ramadan comes in the summer months, which is when Sinai is at its hottest, it is often a challenge to fast and continue working too, but this is the point of Ramadan. To remind us of the challenges that face the poor, appreciate what we have, and thank our God for carrying us through.
Before the sunset prayer known as Maghribit, and just before the sky turns orange our ‘breakfast’ is prepared. This is when we break our fast each evening. It is our tradition to send steaming plates of freshly cooked food to our neighbours. A few dates are eating to help our sugar levels, and water is taken to help us rehydrate before we begin our sunset prayer.
Dates are important in other ways during fasting as they follow the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad. They are easy for the stomach to take, rich in minerals, good for the body, and they prepare us for the meal we are about to eat.
Our friends and family then sit together to enjoy what is known as Futuur (the breakfast). Bedouin enjoy fish, chicken, meat, soup, salad, bread and many other things and the breakfast can be anything we like. People will often gather outside their homes and business to eat their food and invite others to join.
Blessings are bountiful when we share our food. Even on ordinary days it is our culture to invite people to our table, and we never turn people away. But during this precious month of Ramadan all Muslims are encouraged to share food as a further reminder to be selfless. Breaking the fast is a wonderful time of celebration and togetherness.
The second meal we eat is before Fajr (the dawn prayer) and is know as Suhuur (dinner). Bedouin men from any area generally meet in a large seating area called a Magad. Everyone is welcome, and those who are able will bring a large plate of food with them to share with the rest of the men. Women eat together and share with one another in their homes.
The Three Parts of Ramadan
The first 10 days are the days of mercy.
The second 10 days are the days of forgiveness.
The third 10 days are to seek refuge in Allah from the hellfire.
During the last 10 days of Ramadan is Laylat al Qadr, which means “The Night of Destiny” or “The Night of Power”. We believe this is the most holy night of the year in which the first revelations of the Quran were sent down to Muhammad.
We offer extra prayers on this day, particularly the night prayer. We wake, pray, and hope God will be near us on this night and reward us if he chooses to.
Thought to be on one of the odd-numbered nights towards the end of the month (especially 27th), it is possible to see a strong light, and if we see this strong light we will be very close to Allah.
In all there are 5 Pillars of Islam. Fasting (Sawm) during Ramadan is the 4th pillar. The other four pillars declare there is one God and that Muhammed is God’s Messenger (Shahadah). That Prayer should be 5 times each day (Salat). Any money that can be spared should be given to the poor (Zakaat). And a pilgrimage to Mecca should happen at least once in our lifetime (Hajj).
The end of Ramadan is marked by a big celebration called Eid-ul-Fitr, the Festival of the Breaking of the Fast. We will talk more about this nearer the time.
* Those who are not required to fast are the mentally ill, old people, the sick, those who are travelling, and women who are menstruating, pregnant or breast-feeding. This time can be made up for in the months before the next Ramadan begins.