In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful
Ramadan, the Month of Fasting
What is Ramadan?
Ramadan is the name of the ninth month in the Islamic lunar calendar. It is an important month in the Islamic calendar and culture. Each day during the month of Ramadan, Muslims around the world observe the sacred month by fasting during daylight hours (from dawn to sunset), performing nightly prayers in addition to the daily obligatory prayers, and concluding each day’s fast over food with family and friends. At the end of the month is a three-day holiday that celebrates the conclusion of the month with Eid al-Fitr and prepares individuals to return to their regular daily routine.
When does Ramadan occur?
Most Muslim countries today use the solar or common calendar for government and business purposes. However, the traditional Muslim calendar (called the Hijri calendar) and the dates of holidays follow the lunar cycle. The lunar calendar is based on the moon’s orbit of the earth of 29 days. Twelve lunar months make a lunar year, which is 354 days long. Because the lunar year is approximately 11 days shorter than the solar year, Ramadan and other Islamic holidays take place at different times during the solar calendar year. This means that the month of Ramadan may occur in the winter during some years, while in the summer during others. The start of the month of Ramadan traditionally occurs when the thinnest crescent moon is visible. The new crescent, which looks like a backward “c,” indicates the beginning of a new month. The middle of the month is marked by a full moon.
Objective of Fasting
The main objective of fasting is to achieve piety and righteousness. This implies becoming conscious of our Creator, increasing our awareness of His Majesty, exalting and glorifying His names and attributes, appreciating His greatness, recalling His blessings upon us, and being grateful and thankful for His guidance. “O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, so you may remain conscious of God ” [Qur’an, 2 :183].
What does fasting imply?
The term in Arabic for fasting is called sawm, which literally means “to abstain from something.” Mary, Jesus’ mother, upon returning back to the town with her infant child Jesus replied to her clan, “I have vowed to the Merciful to fast (abstain, i.e. from speaking).” [Qur’an, 19:26] Fasting in Ramadan requires one to abstain from food, drink, and marital relations from dawn to dusk, with the explicit intention of doing so for the sake of God, i.e., to seek His pleasure.
The wisdom of fasting
Abstaining from food has great ramifications on the person observing the fast, physical as well as spiritual. It is an exercise to discipline and control the baser self. One learns how to restrain one’s urges and desires. Fasting frees the person from the bondage of lusts and desires. Abstaining from intakes also reminds us of the less fortunate ones, the poor and the destitute. Fasting gives us a general sense of how they feel.
It boosts the morale of the poor by knowing that even kings have to go hungry for a while. Fasting makes the rich realize and understand what the poor go through day after day. Fasting also purifies one’s heart and tongue.
One is urged to control oneself and learn how to abstain from vain talk, lying, and cheating. Although fasting is beneficial to health, it is mainly a method of self-purification and self-restraint. By cutting oneself from worldly comforts, even for a short time, a fasting person focuses on his or her purpose in life by constantly being aware of the presence of God.
Fasting is one of the pillars of Islam
“Ramadan is the month in which the Qur’an was sent down...Whoever of you witnesses that month should fast” [Qur’an, 2:185].
Fasting is compulsory upon every sane, healthy, adult Muslim male who is not traveling at that time. As for a Muslim female, she must not be menstruating or having post-childbirth bleeding. People who are insane, minors, traveling, menstruating, going through post-childbirth bleeding, elderly, breast-feeding, or pregnant do not need to observe the fast.
Iftar (meal after sunset)
During Ramadan, when individuals abstain from food and drink during daylight hours, they get together over food with families and friends in the evenings. The meal with which the fast is broken is called iftar, which usually consists of dates and water followed by a simple nourishing meal.
Suhur (meal before dawn)
It is preferred and highly encouraged to eat a pre-dawn meal (suhur), but there is no sin upon one who does not do so. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said, “Eat a pre-dawn meal, for there are blessings in it.” He also said, “You should eat this pre-dawn meal for it is blessed nourishment.” It is a blessing because it strengthens the fasting person, makes one more energetic, and makes the fast easier on him or her. Generally, Muslims emulate this prophetic practice.
Exemptions from fasting
There are those who may not fast but have to make up the missed days of fasting at a later date. These include those who are ill (not chronically) and travelers. “And (for) him who is sick among you or on a journey, (the same) number of other days.” (Qur’an, 2:184) Elderly men and women are exempted from fasting, so are the chronically ill and those who have to perform difficult jobs under harsh circumstances with no other means to support themselves. They are not obliged to make up the days they missed, but in turn are obliged to feed one poor person a day (for every day of fasting that they do not perform). Pregnant and breast-feeding women who fear for themselves or for their babies may not fast. They, however, have to feed one poor person for every day they miss and make up the missed days at a later time. Women who are constantly pregnant or breast-feeding are not obliged to make up the days. Though the young are not required to fast, it is proper for their parents or guardians to encourage them to fast so they will become accustomed to it at an early age. They may fast as long as they are able to.
As the end of Ramadan approaches, Muslims prepare for Eid al-Fitr (end of fasting celebration), which draws Ramadan to a close. In countries where there are significant Muslim communities, commercial and government activities may come to a halt. Schools and businesses often close for three days. Eid is a time of exchanging gifts, sharing food, socializing, and taking a holiday.
Ramadan, the month of the Holy Qur’an
The month of Ramadan is not only the month of fasting. It is also the month of the Qur’an. The Qur’an is the Muslim Scripture.
“Ramadan is the month in which the Qur’an was sent down, as a guide to mankind, also clear (signs) for guidance and the differentiation (between right and wrong).” [Qur’an, 2 :185]
According to a prophetic tradition, it is believed that all Abrahamic Scriptures, including the Scrolls of Abraham, the Torah, the Gospel, the Psalms of David, and the Qur’an, were revealed in the month of Ramadan.
Tarawih - Nightly Prayers in Ramadan
Muslims congregate at mosques observing the nightly prayers (tarawih) that start after the last prayer of the day, about an hour and a half after sunset. The nightly prayers usually last for nearly an hour. Every night, the Imam (leader in prayer) recites an equal portion of the Qur’an so that by the 27th or the 29th night of Ramadan the entire Qur’an has been recited by the Imam from his memory. Reciting the Qur’an not only brings one nearer to God, but also rejuvenates one’s spirit and soul. Reciting the Qur’an, reflecting upon the divine words, and acting upon the divine teachings are central to Ramadan.
In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful
Beliefs (Articles of Faith)
The articles of Islamic faith define the place of a human being in this world and the next. There are six articles of faith. The following verse of the Qur’an mentions the first five, “O you who believe! Believe in Allah (God) and His Messenger (Muhammad), and the Scripture that He has sent to His Messenger and the Scriptures that He sent to those before (Muhammad). Anyone who denies Allah, His Angels, His Books, His Messenger, and the Day of Judgment has gone far astray.” [Qur’an, 4:136] The sixth article of faith is to believe in the Divine Decree.
A man came to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and asked him about faith. He inquired, “Tell me about faith (Iman).” The Prophet Muhammad informed him, “Faith is to believe in God, His Angels, His Books, His Prophets, the Last Day, and in the Divine Decree (Qadar), both in its good and in its evil aspects.”
1. Faith in God’s Unity
The most important article of faith is the belief in the oneness of God. The Arabic word for God is Allah. This is emphasized in the Qur’an in many places, for example: “Allah! There is no god but He; the Living, the Self-subsisting, Eternal” [Qur’an, 3:2], “Know, therefore, that there is no god but Allah” [Qur’an, 47:19], and “Say: ‘He is Allah (God), the One and only. Allah, the Eternal, Absolute. He begets not, nor is He begotten. And none is like Him’.” [Qur’an, 112:1-4]
Real and absolute success in this life and the hereafter lies in willful and conscious acceptance of this canon. Oneness of God was the cornerstone of teachings of all of God’s prophets and messengers. A Muslim must not, in any shape or form, ascribe partners to God in His essence, attributes, authority, or rights.
2. Faith in God’s Angels
Belief in the existence of God’s angels is the second article of faith. God states in the Qur’an, “Praise be to God, who created (out of nothing) the heavens and the earth, who made the angels as messengers with wings, two, three, or four (pairs).” [Qur’an, 35:1] God also says, “And the angels celebrate the praises of their Lord and pray for forgiveness for (all) beings on earth.” [Qur’an, 42:5]
Angels do not deviate from the commands of God. They are in no way related to God and have no share in His divinity. Muslims are forbidden from worshipping angels or seeking any help or any intercession from them. One of God’s well-known angels is Gabriel, who was responsible for bringing God’s messages and revelations to His prophets and messengers.
3. Faith in God’s Books (Scriptures)
The third article of faith is to believe in all scriptures that were revealed by God. Muslims, therefore, believe in the scriptures, such as the Scrolls of Abraham, the Psalms of David, the Torah of Moses, and the Gospel of Jesus, but only in their original forms. The Qur’an affirms, “He has sent down the Book to you with truth, confirming what was there before it. And He sent down the Torah and the Gospel.” [Qur’an, 3:3] However, full contents of these and other scriptures (which are not mentioned by name in the Qur’an) did not remain intact. Consequently, translations of only parts of some of those earlier scriptures are available today. Additionally, languages of the older scriptures are extinct and are, therefore, not easily and generally accessible or comprehensible to people today. The Qur’an is the last and final scripture that was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. Its language (Arabic), however, is fully preserved and alive to this day, and so is the original text of the Qur’an in its entirety.
4. Faith in God’s Prophets
The fourth article of faith is to believe that God chose some human beings as His prophets and messengers for the guidance of all nations and peoples. Some of the well-known prophets and messengers are mentioned in the following verses of the Qur’an “And this was Our argument which we gave to Abraham against his people. We raise in rank whoever We will, your Lord is All-Knowing, All-Wise. We gave him Isaac and Jacob, each of whom We guided, as We had guided Noah before, and among his descendants were David, Solomon, Job, Joseph, Moses, and Aaron; in this way, We reward those who do good; and Zachariah and John and Jesus and Elias. All of them were among the righteous. And Ishmael and Elisha and Jonah and Lot; and to all We gave favor above the nations. We guided many among their fathers and their children and their brothers, and We chose them and led them on to the straight path.” [Qur’an, 6:83-87]
Teachings imparted by all prophets and messengers were applicable to the people they were sent to. Muhammad was the last and final messenger of God and his teachings confirmed the teachings of all previous prophets and hence applied to all people of his time and are applicable to all human beings who will follow him until the end of this world. About the Prophet Muhammad, the Qur’an says “We have not sent you but as a universal (messenger) to mankind, giving them glad tidings and warning them (against sin).” [Qur’an, 34:28]
5. Faith in Life after Death
Islam’s fifth article of faith is the belief in life after death or the hereafter, when all human beings will be brought back to life. God says in the Qur’an, “On that day, We shall leave them to surge like waves on one another; the trumpet will be blown, and We shall collect them all together” [Qur’an, 18:99], and “Verily the hour is coming – My design is to keep it hidden – for every soul to receive its reward by the measure of its endeavor.” [Qur’an, 20:15]
Belief in the hereafter has the most profound effect on a Muslim’s actions in this life, because he believes that one is accountable for all one’s actions, small or large, covert or overt. On Judgment Day, complete records of every person’s actions will be presented to God. Based on these actions, God will justly decide every human being’s destination in Paradise or Hell.
6. Divine Decree (Qadar)
The sixth article of faith is to believe in Divine Decree or destiny. When God created each thing, He determined when it would come into existence and when it would cease to exist. He also determined its qualities and nature. And everything in the universe, the seen and the unseen, is completely subject to the overriding power of God. Nothing can happen outside His Will.
Practices (Pillars of Islam)
The pillars of Islam are the five duties incumbent upon every Muslim. They are the profession of faith (shahadah), daily ritual prayers (salah), the annual obligatory charity (zakah), fasting during the month of Ramadan (sawm), and pilgrimage to Mecca (hajj). The Qur'an presents the practice of Islam as a framework for worship and a sign of commitment to the faith. Muslims worship God directly without the intercession of priests, clergy, or saints.
A man heard the Messenger of God, Muhammad (peace be upon him), say “Islam is built upon five (pillars): testifying that there is none worthy of worship except God and that Muhammad is the Messenger of God, establishing the prayers, giving alms, making pilgrimage to the House, and fasting the month of Ramadan.” The structure of Islam stands on its five pillars. Establishing these pillars is essential for a Muslim who wants to fulfill the duty of submission to God.
1. Testimony of Faith (Shahadah)
The declaration (shahadah) that “There is no deity but God (Allah) and Muhammad is His Messenger” is the first pillar of Islam. The first part of the shahadah creates a direct link between a person and God. It frees man from superstitions and any false gods and from the tyranny and oppression of other men, as there is no obedience to any other creature that violates obedience to God.
The second part of the shahadah covers the finality of prophethood of Muhammad. He was the last in the chain of prophets and messengers sent by God to guide humanity. The Qur’an says, “He (Muhammad) is the messenger of Allah and the seal of the prophets.” [Qur’an, 33:40] A Muslim must have knowledge and full conviction in the attributes of God. For example, He is one and only one and has no partners or associates; He is the Creator, the Ruler, and the Sustainer of the whole universe; He hears, sees, and knows all whether it is open or hidden; He is the most Merciful and the Just. He is Omnipotent, Omniscient, and Omnipresent.
2. Prayers (Salah)
The five daily prayers (salah) constitute an important pillar of Islam. The Qur’an mentions this in many places, for example, “And be steadfast in prayer and regular in charity.” [Qur’an, 2:43]
The salah is an expression of gratefulness to God and is a method of purifying the heart and the soul while safeguarding a person from indecency and evil. The obligatory salah is offered during five windows of time throughout the day. The daily prayers include recitation of parts of the Qur’an and among others, the physical postures of bowing and prostration. The prayers can be offered almost anywhere: home, workplace, school, etc.
Salah in congregation, especially in a mosque, is highly recommended, as it is an expression of collective piety and solidarity of Muslims. During congregational prayers, all worshippers stand shoulder to shoulder, regardless of their color, race, or social status. Since there is no hierarchy in Islam, any male Muslim can be a prayer leader (imam). However, the imam is usually the one who is more knowledgeable in Islamic matters. A Muslim female may lead female-only prayers.
3. Obligatory Charity (Zakah)
Obligatory charity, as a pillar of Islam, is an act of charity for the social and economic benefit of a society and a way of achieving God-consciousness and spiritual elevation. Zakah is a means of minimizing the affliction of the poor and the deserving sections of a society. Paying of zakah (and other voluntary charity) cleanses a person’s heart of greed, hatred, and jealousy, and replaces them with generosity, compassion, and goodwill.
Every Muslim, male or female, who for a whole one year, has owned cash, silver, gold, or other forms of liquid assets above a certain limit (of the value of three ounces of gold approximately), is obligated to give away 2.5% of one’s savings as zakah. Beneficiaries of zakah are specified in the Qur’an, “Zakah is for: the poor, the destitute, those who collect it, reconciling people´s hearts, freeing captives, those in debt, spending in the cause of God, and for the wayfarer. It is a legal obligation from God. God is All-Knowing, All-Wise.” [Qur’an, 9:60]
4. Fasting (Sawm)
Fasting, another pillar of Islam, builds a spirit of patience and self-discipline in a Muslim. The Qur’an mentions fasting in several places, such as, “O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that you may (learn) self-restraint” [Qur’an, 2:183]; and “So let those of you who witness it (the month of Ramadan) fast in it.” [Qur’an, 2:185] By denying oneself food, drink, and intimate spousal relations, the fasting person, in compliance with divine commands, suppresses one’s basic needs and desires, thus reinforcing one’s faith in God. Through fasting, a Muslim develops compassion for the needy and the hungry.
Every day of Ramadan (the 9th month in the Islamic lunar calendar), the fast lasts from dawn to sunset. Muslims strengthen bonds within their families and with other Muslims by sharing meals at the end of the fasting day. In addition to the daily obligatory prayers, Muslims also offer special nightly congregational prayers (tarawih) in mosques. During Ramadan, Muslims are expected to continue their usual daytime activities of earning a livelihood, going to school, etc. They are exhorted to abstain from vain chat and gossip and to be more generous during this month. Outside of Ramadan, a Muslim may fast voluntarily any day of the year except on the days of Eid celebration.
5. Pilgrimage (Hajj)
Pilgrimage is the fifth pillar of Islam. The Qur’an states, “In it (the Sacred House) are clear signs, the station of Abraham, and whoever enters it shall be secure, and pilgrimage to the House is incumbent upon men for the sake of God, (upon) everyone who is able to undertake the journey to it.” [Qur’an, 3:97] Muslims from all over the world travel to Mecca (in Saudi Arabia) to perform pilgrimage (Hajj) with hearts filled with an intense sense of devotion. These pilgrims embark on this journey with a common objective of acquiring the pleasure of God.
The largest assembly of millions of Muslims of all races and colors during hajj develops a universal brotherhood. Hajj is highlighted by a complete atmosphere of peace, the peace within pilgrims’ souls and the peace with all creatures of God. All Muslim men and women are required to perform hajj once in their lifetime provided they are physically, mentally, and financially capable. Many rituals of hajj date back to the time of Prophets Abraham and Ishmael (peace be upon them) who were the first pilgrims to the holy place of the Ka’bah (sanctuary) in Mecca. Hajj culminates by the gathering of all pilgrims in the plain of Arafat that reminds them of the assembly of all human beings on Judgment Day.
IONA aims at transforming its members and surrounding communities to righteous, God-fearing people, who collectively strive for the highest moral standard and constantly seek God’s forgiveness to earn His pleasure. IONA members seek His mercy and grace in this life and in the hereafter. They rejuvenate their souls through internal struggle (jihad) and spiritual exercise in worship of the Creator, God most glorified. The strength of their belief in God almighty gives them the courage to promote good and forbid evil, and to engage in the struggle to establish social, political, and economic justice.