By Sheikh Muzamil Lubega
At the end of this week, Muslims will start Ramadhan. Ramadhan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. Islam uses a lunar calendar, that is, each month begins with the sighting of the new moon. Because the lunar calendar is about 11 days shorter than the solar calendar used elsewhere, Islamic holidays â€œmoveâ€ each year. For more than a billion Muslims around the world, Ramadhan is a month of blessing marked by prayer, fasting and charity. While in many places, other religious holidays and celebrations have become widely commercialised, Ramadhan retains its focus on self-sacrifice and devotion to Allah.
As Muslims, we believe that during the month of Ramadhan, Allah revealed the first verses of the Koran, the holy book of Islam. Around 610 A.D, the prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, used to go out to the desert near Mecca (in todaysâ€™ Saudi Arabia) to think about faith, society and Allah. One night a voice called to him from the night sky. It was the angel Jibril, who told Muhammad he had been chosen to receive the word of Allah.
In the days that followed, Muhammad found himself reading verses of the holy Koran. At many mosques during Ramadan, about one thirtieth of the Koran is recited each night in prayers known as Tarawih. In this way, by the end of the month, the complete scripture will have been recited. Muslims practice Swawm, or fasting, for the entire month of Ramadhan.
This means that they do not eat or drink anything, including water, while the sun is up as well as making a special effort to avoid sins. Fasting is one of the five pillars (duties) of Islam. As with other Islamic duties, all able Muslims start taking part in Swawm from about age 12.
Fasting serves many purposes. While they are hungry and thirsty, Muslims are reminded of the suffering of the poor. Fasting is also an opportunity to practice self-control and to cleanse the body and mind. And in this most sacred month, fasting helps Muslims feel the peace that comes from spiritual devotion as well as kinship with fellow believers.
During Ramadhan in the Muslim world, most restaurants are closed during the daylight hours. Families get up early for suhoor, a meal eaten before the sun rises. After the sun sets, the fast is broken with a meal known as Iftar. Iftar usually begins with dates and sweet drinks that provide a quick energy boost.
How does Ramadan end? Ramadan ends with the festival of Eid el-Fitr, literally the â€œFestival of Breaking the Fast.â€ Eid el-Fitr is one of the two most important Islamic celebrations (the other occurs after the Hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca). At Eid el-Fitr, people dress in their finest clothes, adorn their homes with lights and decorations, give treats to children, and enjoy visits with friends and family.
A sense of generosity and gratitude colours these festivities. Although charity and good deeds are always important in Islam, they have special significance at the end of Ramadhan.
As the month draws to a close, Muslims are obligated to share their blessings by feeding the poor and making contributions to the mosque.
The writer is the chairman ShinAfrika Foundation
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