Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Intro to Ramadhan - Ramadhan Mubarak!

So it's finally Ramadhan--and I'm going to be spending half of it in Morocco, inshaAllah. 

Ramadhan here started today (Wednesday, July 10th); in some places, it started on Tuesday. For those who might not know, lemme just give some basics of Ramadhan.

Ramadhan is the 9th month of the Islamic calendar when the Qur'an was revealed. The Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar, and since the rise of the new moon isn't always determined in advance, Muslims never really know when the start of Ramadhan will actually be; we have approximate days and then just watch out for the moon, so if it appears, the new month has begun; if it doesn't, it hasn't.

Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset; the number of fasting hours varies from place to place--such as 9 hours in Argentina, 15 in the UAE, and 20 in Sweden. In countries like Sweden, where, in June, the sun rises at 3:47am and doesn't set at all for the month, there is still some debate over what Muslims should do or how long they can/should fast in the northern hemisphere, since Islamic guidelines in fasting in such countries do not seem to have taken those into consideration. While some scholars/authorities say that Muslims in such countries/zones should fast from sunrise to sunset anyway, regardless of the difficulty and inconvenience, others say that it's up to each individual to decide for themselves. Others, however, say that Muslims should go with the time of the country closes to them with a regular solar cycle. And yet others say that they should just go with Mecca or Medina (the top two holy cities in Islam, third being Jerusalem).
So, basically, there's no one answer to the question of how long Muslims in Finland, Sweden, and other such countries with "weird" solar cycles are "supposed to" fast.

And we wake up around 3-4 am (depending on where you're located) to eat our "breakfast," called suhoor in Arabic (sehri for South Asians/Urdu speakers; peshmaney for Pashto speakers). Once the time for sunset arrives, we stop eating and drinking, and our fast has begun. Some Muslims wait till they pray and read some Qur'an and then go back to sleep, and others don't wait to pray/read Qur'an but just go back to sleep. We wake up normal hours for the day (e.g., 7, 8, 9 ... 12, 1, etc.). BUT not all Muslims do it this way. Some don't wake up at all for peshmaney and just eat and drink a ton before sleeping at night; others, like my Moroccan host family, eat a ton around 11pm-12am, go to sleep, and wake up around 3am to drink a ton of milk and eat a ton of dates, pray, and go back to sleep. So, there's no one way of starting your fast, and no one way is more "correct" or beter than any other; it's whatever works for you.

There are many exceptions to the rule that "Muslims are supposed to fast from sunrise to sunset." The fast isn't required until we reach puberty and are able to fast all day long; children are therefore an exception to the rule, needless to say. Other exceptions include but are NOT limited to: the elderly (their age may vary depending on their health and general capabilities, although I've seen elders in their 80s fasting and doing it well); women on their menstruation, pregnant women, nursing mothers; generally ill/sick people, whatever their condition is (sometimes we don't understand people's conditions and are quick to say, "NO! You still have to fast! Stop making excuses!" But that's really unfair and always wrong. Please be kind and never do this to anyone! Sometimes people have conditions, issues, reasons that we do not understand--and don't need to understand because it's none of our business--and make unfair judgments.) Ultimately, a fast is between God and the faster, so no matter how much we insist that others fast, it's still up to the individual.

Also, while refraining from foods/drinks is the most popularly known guideline about Ramadhan and fasting among Muslims, there's much more to fasting than just not eating food and drinks. While we're advised not to do many things (e.g., lying, cheating) even when we're not fasting, they are a major part of fasting and include: not fighting with others, being kind overall, not speaking ill of people, and so on. Things that all religions consider unpleasant and advise against because they lead to harmful relations among people.

So, why, right? Why fast at all? Most religions have something like this, so Islam isn't the only one, and all religions have the some of same reasons for prescribing it, mostly having to do with discipline the self and the soul, sacrificing self for God, dedicating self to God, soul- and self-purification, and so on. Most individuals have their own reasons for fasting and they get different things from it, while others might just say, "I fast because I have to." For some people, fasting brings them closer to God, prevents them from committing certain "sinful" deeds that they believe they might commit unless they fast. Other purposes of fasting include trying to empathize with the poor and the hungry and learning to be more kind towards them.

Muslims believe that Satan/the devil has been imprisoned by God during the entire month of Ramadhan, explaining why "some people become better Muslims during this month and go back to their evil habits afterwards." Since Satan has been chained, "we have no reason to not commit good, since there's nothing encouraging us to do evil in the first place," we're taught.

We also believe that our good deeds are multiplied by manyfolds during this month, so every one good deed you commit (such as giving charity or being kind to someone otherwise) in Ramadhan, you get far more credit for that one deed alone than you do when you do it outside of Ramadhan. 

Oh, and it is common among Muslims to try to finish reading the entire Qur'an, with its 30 "parts" (paras), in the 30 days of Ramadhan. Children even compete with each other over it, each claiming to have read more than the other, and each trying to finish it earlier.

Suit yourself!
Common ways to greet Muslims during Ramadhan: Ramadaan Kareem, Ramadhan Mubarak, Ramadhaan Sa'eed (these are all Arabic and basically mean "Happy Ramadhan!") In South Asia, "Ramadhan mubarak" is more common and actually has a different meaning than it does in Arabic. In Arabic, it means, "Ramadhan is blessed!" When South Asians say it, the word "mubarak" = congratulations. We say to each other, for example, "Mubarak ho!" during engagements, weddings, childbirths, and other happy occasions.

If I'm missing other obvious points, feel free to add.

Coming up is a post on Ramadhan in Morocco. Feel free to read up on how part of my Ramadhan in Jordan (2011) was and what all I learned from it. 

OH!! Also, there are more than one way to spell "Ramadhan." I prefer "Ramadhan" (it translates well into the Arabic). South Asians and Persians generally call it Ramazan or Ramzan (has to do with how they pronounce the Arabic letter 'dhaad' (ض). In Arabic, "ramadhan" is written like this: رمضان Written the same way in Pesian, Urdu, Pashto. Others also spell it as "Ramadan." But it's all the same thing, I promise.

k, in peace! Ramadhan kareem! :) Be happy, be generous!

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