Educational Forum Papers
Islam is a monotheistic Abrahamic religion originating with the teachings of Muhammad, a 7th century Arab religious and political figure. The word Islam means “submission”, or the total surrender of oneself to Allah. An adherent of Islam is known as a Muslim, meaning “one who submits (to God)”. There are between 1.1 billion and 1.8 billion Muslims, making Islam the second-largest religion in the world, after Christianity.
Muslims believe that God revealed the Qur’an to Muhammad, God’s final prophet, and regard the Qur’an and the Sunnah (words and deeds of Muhammad) as the fundamental sources of Islam.They do not regard Muhammad as the founder of a new religion, but as the restorer of the original monotheistic faith of Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and other prophets. Islamic tradition holds that Judaism and Christianity distorted the messages of these prophets over time either in interpretation, in text, or both.
Islam includes many religious practices. Adherents are generally required to observe the Five Pillars of Islam, which are five duties that unite Muslims into a community. In addition to the Five Pillars, Islamic law (sharia) has developed a tradition of rulings that touch on virtually all aspects of life and society. This tradition encompasses everything from practical matters like dietary laws and banking to warfare.
Almost all Muslims belong to one of two major denominations, the Sunni and Shi’a. The schism developed in the late 7th century following disagreements over the religious and political leadership of the Muslim community. Roughly 85 percent of Muslims are Sunni and 15 percent are Shi’a. Islam is the predominant religion throughout the Middle East, as well as in parts of Africa and Asia. Large communities are also found in China, the Balkan Peninsula in Eastern Europe and Russia. There are also large Muslim immigrant communities in wealthier and more developed parts of the world such as Western Europe. About 20 percent of Muslims live in Arab countries.
For Further Reading
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar; Muslims worldwide observe this as a month of fasting. This annual observance is regarded as one of the Five Pillars of Islam. The month lasts 29–30 days based on the visual sightings of the crescent moon, according to numerous biographical accounts compiled in hadiths. The word Ramadan comes from the Arabic root ramida or ar-ramad, which means scorching heat or dryness. Fasting is wajib (obligatory) for adult Muslims, except those who are ill, travelling, pregnant, diabetic or going through menstrual bleeding.
While fasting from dawn until sunset Muslims refrain from consuming food, drinking liquids, smoking and sexual relations; and in some interpretations from swearing. According to Islam, the sawab (rewards) of fasting are many, but in this month they are believed to be multiplied. Fasting for Muslims during Ramadan typically includes the increased offering of salat (prayers) and recitation of the Quran.
In the Quran
Chapter 2, Revelation 185 of the Quran states:
“The month of Ramadan is that in which was revealed the Quran; a guidance for mankind, and clear proofs of the guidance, and the criterion (of right and wrong). And whosoever of you is present, let him fast the month, and whosoever of you is sick or on a journey, a number of other days. Allah desires for you ease; He desires not hardship for you; and that you should complete the period, and that you should magnify Allah for having guided you, and that perhaps you may be thankful.” [Quran 2:185]
Thus, according to the Quran, Muhammad PBUH first received revelations in the lunar month of Ramadan. Therefore, the month of Ramadan is considered to be the most sacred month of the Islamic calendar, the recording of which began with the Hijra.
Beginning of Ramadan
Hilāl (the crescent) is typically a day (or more) after the astronomical new moon. Since the new moon indicates the beginning of the new month, Muslims can usually safely estimate the beginning of Ramadan. However, to many Muslims, this is not in accordance with authenticated Hadiths stating that visual confirmation per region is recommended. The consistent variations of a day have existed since the time of Muhammad.
Ramadan is a time of spiritual reflection, improvement and increased devotion and worship. Muslims are expected to put more effort into following the teachings of Islam. The fast (sawm) begins at dawn and ends at sunset. In addition to abstaining from eating and drinking, Muslims also increase restraint, such as abstaining from sexual relations and generally sinful speech and behavior. The act of fasting is said to redirect the heart away from worldly activities, its purpose being to cleanse the soul by freeing it from harmful impurities. Ramadan also teaches Muslims how to better practice self-discipline, self-control, sacrifice, and empathy for those who are less fortunate; thus encouraging actions of generosity and compulsory charity (zakat).
It becomes compulsory for Muslims to start fasting when they reach puberty, so long as they are healthy, sane and have no disabilities or illnesses. Exemptions to fasting are travel, menstruation, illness, older age, pregnancy, and breast-feeding. However, many Muslims with medical conditions insist on fasting to satisfy their spiritual needs, and healthcare professionals must work with their patients to reach common ground. Professionals should closely monitor individuals who decide to persist with fasting.
While fasting is not considered compulsory in childhood, many children endeavour to complete as many fasts as possible as practice for later life. Those who are unable to fast are obliged to make up for it. According to the Quran, those ill or traveling (musaafir) are exempt from obligation, but still must make up the days missed later on.
Fasting does not pose any medical risks to healthy individuals. A team of cardiologists in the UAE found that people observing Ramadan enjoy a positive effect on their lipid profile, which means there is a reduction of cholesterol in the blood.
Suhoor and Iftar
Each day before dawn, Muslims observe a pre-fast meal called suhoor. After stopping a short time before dawn, Muslims begin the first prayer of the day, the Fajr prayer. At sunset, families hasten for the fast-breaking meal known as iftar.
Considering the high diversity of the global Muslim population, it is impossible to describe typical suhoor or iftar meals. Suhoor can be leftovers from the previous night’s dinner (iftar), typical breakfast foods, or ethnic foods.
In the evening, some dates are usually the first foods to break the fast; according to tradition, Muhammad broke fast with three dates. Following that, Muslims generally adjourn for the Maghrib prayer, the fourth of the five daily prayers, after which the main meal is served.
Social gatherings, many times buffet style, at iftar are frequent, and traditional dishes are often highlighted, including traditional desserts, especially those made only during Ramadan. Water is usually the beverage of choice, but juice and milk are also consumed. Soft drinks and caffeinated beverages are consumed to a lesser extent.
In the Middle East, the iftar meal consists of water, juices, dates, salads and appetizers, one or more entrees, and dessert. Typical entrees are “lamb stewed with wheat berries, lamb kebabs with grilled vegetables, or roast chicken served with chickpea-studded rice pilaf”. A rich dessert such as baklava or kunafeh (“a buttery, syrup-sweetened kadaifi noodle pastry filled with cheese”) concludes the meal.
Over time, iftar has grown into banquet festivals. This is a time of fellowship with families, friends and surrounding communities, but may also occupy larger spaces at masjid or banquet halls for 100 or more diners.
Charity is very important in Islam, and even more so during Ramadan. Zakat, often translated as “the poor-rate”, is obligatory as one of the pillars of Islam; a fixed percentage is required to be given to the poor of the person’s savings. Sadaqa is voluntary charity in given above and beyond what is required from the obligation of zakat. In Islam all good deeds are more handsomely rewarded in Ramadan than in any other month of the year. Consequently, many will choose this time to give a larger portion, if not all, of the zakat for which they are obligated to give. In addition, many will also use this time to give a larger portion of sadaqa in order to maximize the reward that will await them on the Day of Judgment.
In many Muslim countries, it is a common sight to see people giving more food to the poor and the homeless, and even to see large public areas for the poor to come and break their fast. It is said that if a person helps a fasting person to break their fast, then they receive a reward for that fast, without diminishing the reward that the fasting person got for their fast.
Increased prayer and recitation of the Quran
In addition to fasting, Muslims are encouraged to read the entire Quran. Some Muslims perform the recitation of the entire Quran by means of special prayers, called Tarawih. These voluntary prayers are held in the mosques every night of the month, during which a whole section of the Quran (Juz’, which is 1/30 of the Quran) is recited. Therefore, the entire Quran would be completed at the end of the month. Although it is not required to read the whole Quran in the Salatul Tarawih prayers, it is common.
Sometimes referred to as “the night of power” or ‘the night of decree”, Laylat al-Qadr is considered the most holy night of the year. This is the night in which Muslims believe the first revelation of the Quran was sent down to Muhammad stating that this night was “better than one thousand months [of proper worship], as stated in Chapter 97:3 of the Qu’ran.
Also, generally, Laylat al-Qadr is believed to have occurred on an odd-numbered night during the last 10 days of Ramadan, i.e., either the night of the 21st, 23rd, 25th, 27th or 29th.
The Muslim holiday of Eid ul-Fitr (Arabic: عيد الفطر, “festivity of breaking the fast”), sometimes spelled in English as Eid al-Fitr, marks the end of Ramadan and the beginning of the next lunar month called Shawwal in Arabic. This first day of the following month is declared after another crescent new moon has been sighted or the completion of 30 days of fasting if no visual sighting is possible due to weather conditions. This first day of Shawwal is called Eid ul-Fitr. Eid Ul-Fitr may also be a reference towards the festive nature of having endured the month of fasting successfully and returning to the more natural disposition (fitra) of being able to eat, drink and resume intimacy with spouses during the day.
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