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Understanding Ramadan

It's kind of like Christmas, but not at all

By: Sofi Seck

Posted: 8/24/09

The more I talk to my friends about this holiday, the more I realize how misunderstood Ramadan truly is. In light of this and Ramadan starting this week, I have decided to share with you all that I can about why we fast.

Simply put, fasting during Ramadan is one of the five pillars, meaning it is one of the five most basic acts a Muslim has to do. It is part of our fundamental belief system.

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Muslim lunar year, which is celebrated by fasting for 30 days. Because the Muslim calendar is lunar rather than solar, the month of Ramadan moves through the year. Thus, sometimes if falls during the winter when the days are shorter. Other times, it falls during the summer when the days are longer.

Not everyone fasts during this month, as with anything, there are exceptions. Children under the age of puberty, the sick, travelers, pregnant women and nursing mothers, people who are mentally challenged, the elderly, and women who are menstruating are all exempt from fasting. Those who are temporarily unable to fast must make up the missed days after Ramadan, or feed the poor.

Although we cannot eat or drink, fasting is so much more then that. Muslims are called upon to use this month to check their lives in light of Islamic guidance. We are to make peace with those who have wronged us, reinforce ties with family and friends, and change our bad practices. We are to clean up our lives, our thoughts, and our feelings during this month. This means not only fasting from food and drink, but from evil actions, thoughts, and words.

Before going to sleep each night, special prayers are made in which passages of the Qur'an are recited. This is in addition to the normal five prayers recited each day of the year.

Therefore, fasting is not merely physical, but is rather the total commitment of the person's body and soul to the spirit of the fast. We believe that fasting brings us closer to our spiritual side.

It was in the month of Ramadan that the Holy Qur'an "was sent down from heaven" and revealed to the prophet Muhammad. During this month, the gates of Heaven are open, the gates of Hell are closed, and devils are chained up in Hell so they cannot tempt believers on Earth into wrongdoing. This is a big part of why Ramadan is a holy month for us.

To be honest, it is very difficult not eating during the day especially in the United States. In my country, the restaurants would be closed during the day and everyone is fasting, so it's a bit easier. For me, Ramadan is not about eating and drinking, it is a spiritual quest. It is a time for me to focus my energy on what is really important. It is a time to better myself through my beliefs. I look forward to this year's journey.


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