Monday, September 25, 2006

Ramadan 101

For the Non-Muslim readers, unfamiliar with Ramadan, I will give a quick introduction to one of the holiest Islamic occasions. I will keep it simple and would not go into the full religious details since I do not consider myself qualified in that sense. One thing I most certainly need to emphasize, that this post is indented to give a general idea about one of the five pillars of Islam (Fasting) and not as a religious lesson. There are many blogs out there written by people far more knowledgeable about the intricacies of religion and faith. They will certainly serve better in providing more precise guidelines. The five pillars of Islam are:

1. Al-Shahada (The Testimony of Faith) which is the declaration that there is none worthy of worship except Allah (God) and that Muhammad (PBUH) is His last messenger.
2. Al-Salat (Prayer) establishing of the five daily Prayers.
3. Al-Zakat (Almsgiving) which is generally 2.5% of the total savings for a rich person working in trade or industry, and 10% or 20% of the annual produce for agriculturists. This money or produce is distributed among the poor.
4. Al-Sawm (Fasting) during the month of Ramadan.
5. Al-Hajj (The Pilgrimage to Mecca) this is done during the month of Zu al-Hijja, and is compulsory once in a lifetime for one who has the ability to do it. If the Muslim is in ill health or in debt, he or she is not required to perform Hajj.

Most Muslims around the world live, like everybody else, by the Gregorian calendar. However, all of their religious occasions use another calendar called the Hijri. This lunar calendar starts with the year Muhammad (PBUH) migrated from Mecca to Medina (Hijra = Migration). Currently we are in the year 1427 Hijri. There are 12 lunar months in the 354-day Hijri year. A lunar month is roughly 29.5 days and it is agreed that a lunar month is considered either 29 or 30 days, depending on actual observation of the moon. Be that as it may, the Hijri year makes one complete cycle every 33 solar years (being roughly 12 days shorter). This year, the 1st day of Ramadan fell on the 22nd or 23rd of September, so next year (2007) the 1st day of Ramadan will be around the 10th of September. Every lunar Islamic month has a name (Muharram, Safar, Rabi’ I, Rabi’ II, Jumada I, Jumada II, Rajab, Shaaban, Ramadan, Shawwal, Zu al-Qi’dah and Zu al-Hijja).

The Quran was revealed to Muhammad (PBUH) during the month of Ramadan thus it became the holiest month for Muslims. The fundamental ritual of worship in Ramadan is fasting (abstaining from all food and drink from sunrise to sunset). During the day, a fasting Muslim would absolutely eat and drink nothing whatsoever. In addition to culinary deprivation, a Muslim should also abstain from sex during the same hours. Bad temper, foul language and other bad human ailments should be avoided altogether day or night. Immediately when the sun sets, it is Iftar (Dinner) time. Families would gather around the table and enjoy some of the best dishes and sweetened drinks reserved for this month. Even Muslims who drink alcohol will refrain from any intake during the entire month.
In the evenings, neighbors, friends and families socialize. It is also a period of reflection and worship and many followers will interrupt sleep with intervals of prayer and reading of the Quran. Before sunrise, the family will again gather around Sohour (a light meal) to eat and drink until the last possible moment in preparation for the next day ahead.
In the posts to follow I will try to project images from Ramadan in Tartous. Some of these are shared by all Muslims everywhere else. Others are unique to this small geographic area. I will try to describe some Ramadan dishes, folklore rituals and other small matters which make anyplace a home to its inhabitans.
Ramadan Karim (A Generous Ramadan) to each and every one of you.

22 comments:

I love Munich said...

That is a great explanation of what Ramadan is all about! Thanks so much for teaching me a few things I had never heard about ... I'm always eager to learn!
I'm curious about the recipes and all the other events you announced in your post - I will very much enjoy to read about them!

RAMADAN KARIM TO ALL OF YOU!!

Anonymous said...

Thanks Abufares for the simple and accurate explanation of Ramadan. The main thing I miss about Ramadan in Lebanon, (and across the Islamic world), is the socializing aspect. A family is almost always either invited by or invites other families for iftar. The whole month, you never feel alone!

Abu Abdo

abufares said...

Hi Karin

I'm glad my post was of a good use to you.
I will go over some of the daily things which make a Tartoussi Ramadan in the next few days.
Thank you for being here.

abufares said...

Habibi Abu Abdo

I hope that Ramadan is not that tough down under and that indeed you and your family are enjoying it with good company.
What makes Ramadan relatively easy is the togetherness of families, neighbors and friends. I hope that you are able in some way to enjoy this month even if only on weekends.
Thank you for dropping by.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Abu Fares for giving me the opportunity to learn about Islam and not only the month of Ramadan so simply and in a straight forward manner. You made it look simple. Or may be it was my own assumption that it is a very complicated religion.

abufares said...

Dear Anonymous
Thank you for your comment.
I was able to give such a simple image of Islam because it is inherently a very direct religion. No occult rituals, no secret mysteries, and most importantly, "No Middle Man".

Ascribo said...

Thank you Abufares for your straightforward and lovely explanation about Ramadan. I felt like I'm learning about it for the first time.

I will be waiting for your description of local traditions in Ramadan, it's the first time in my life that I miss it. I feel happy though, that Ramadan is "inside me" this time, not outside...

Looking forward for your posts

Shannon said...

As always, I learn much by reading your blog. I can't wait for your future posts. Ramadan Karim to you!

abufares said...

Hi Ascribo
I'm glad you liked my simple explanation.
As to waht you said about living Ramadan from the inside, it must be a wonderful feeling to have reached that stage. A little difficult fasting alone perhaps, but having it in your heart more than makes up for it.

abufares said...

Many Thanks Shannon.
What you said about learning something from my blog made me very happy.
If I can write and entertain you a little, while giving you some useful information then I have reached what I aspire in writing this blog of mine.
Thank you for your encouragment, now and always.

Haider Droubi said...

abu fares,
mbarak syamak....

i know the weather in tartous now is just amazing ...and nothing better than a walk before sun set ...
wish i can be there now...

abufares said...

Hi Haider
Thank you for dropping by. The weather is indeed very nice. We had one rainy day last week. It washed away the summer heat and fall, the most beautiful season in Tartous, has officially started.
I, too, wish you could be here.

Rami the Merciful said...

Ya Abufares,

First of all, Ramadan Mubarak to you and your entire family. I really wish I could've been visiting during this special time of the year, as there are many customs and traditions that only make their way out in a predominantly Muslim region.

As always, I love the descriptive nature of your new blog, and I hope that all readers, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, are able to inundate themselves with the aforementioned information provided to soak in the peculiarities associated with this unique celebration in Islam.

abufares said...

Hi Rami
So glad to hear from you.
You are welcome anytime, Ramadan or Shaaban... Whenever you're in this neck of the wood, drop by for Fatteh and more...

Amy said...

I fasted the other eday - I'm not Muslim but many Muslims I know have asked me if I've ever done it even for a day. I hadn't - so I did it. Can I just say, it was really really hard. Really. I think when I've been in the Middle East I got so caught up with the Iftar afterwards and all the commotion during the night I didn't think about how hard the fasting is - I can't imagine doing it for a month - I'm very impressed.

Does it make you wish for night all day?

Anonymous said...

Hi Amy, at least you know how it feels to fast. As to being hard, my daughter is nine years old, and this is the second year she fasts?! We do not force her at all. What I am saying is that it is a matter of habit and being convinced with the idea, then it is not as hard.
Regards, Abu Abdo

abufares said...

Hi Abu Abdo
I miss you my friend.
I'm convinced with the idea of Ramadan 100%. But, I have to be honest. I find it tough indeed. Sure, we get used to it as the month trudges along, but different people have different tolerance levels. My younger daughter (11), has a much easier time than me.

Drop by again.
Ciao

abufares said...

Hi Amy
Thank you for dropping by.
Fasting is not the same for everyone. For some it's just an easy stroll. For others it's an uphill climb all the way to sunset. For me, the first 2 or 3 days are real tough. But then, I settle in nicely and, kind of, go with the flow.
In all honesty, I do get tired during the day and my productivity level drops considerably. I have always been more of a night person, and I'm definitely so in Ramadan.
Again, I'm real happy you've been here.

Anonymous said...

Hi Abu Fares, I never really meant to say it is an easy "stroll in the park"!! About a week before Ramadan starts I always worry about how "hard" it is going to be, but somehow it just flows and goes along not as hard as I thought it would!!
Regards, Abu Abdo

abufares said...

You're right Abu Abdo
The first couple of days were really hard. Then it started getting easier as the body adjusts to the regimen.
Seyam Makboul Inshallah

inquisitive said...

not to nippick because I have been a naughty muslim myself but, mulsims drinking alcohol is not a muslim in the first place. However, I understand that all of us have our internal struggles.

abufares said...

Dear Inquisitive
Thank you for your late comment. However, I'm extremely glad to respond to such an "inquisitive" remark.
I don't suffer any guilt in my religious beliefs. I don't consider myself a naughty Muslim. Others may do, but not me. My practice might sound contradictory but it's all because I'm being judged by a self-righteous and unbending moral standard. I accept the presence and mentality of others who disagree with me and they have to accept mine. I don't judge them and the least I should expect in this day and age is the same courtesy.
I'll post about it soon.