The Traditions of Ramadan
It’s celebration time when Muslims around the world anxiously wait for the first moon of the ninth Lunar month to appear on the sky. The families gather in their backyards, or get on the nearest hillock or climb on the top of their homes and wait for the pencil thin moon to appear on the horizon, and when it does, jubilation begins.
It is Chandni Raat or the moonlit festivities, even though the moon disappears within an hour; it is still the moonlit night and the spirit of celebrations continue.
As the Christians do the count down from the first day of Christmas or Hindus express devotion for each one of the nine days through Vijay Dashami or the Jews follow eight days of Chanukah, Jains observe eight days of Paryushan, and others follow similar path, the Muslims count the next 29 to 30 days with a sense of piety.
With small variations in practices, families rise up early around 4:00 AM and gather in the kitchen to participate in cooking, sharing the meal and being together as a family unit. Every one has to finish off the food and water intake five minutes prior to sunrise or the morning call for prayers. The youngest one in my family had a glass of water ready to gulp down milli seconds before the first call for prayers, followed by morning prayers at home or Mosque, and then everyone was free for rest of the day.
Throughout the day a conscious effort is made to abstain from food, water or temptations that are detrimental to self-discipline. Those who do not observe fasting, honor the ones who do, by not eating or drinking in their presence.
One should remain steadfast despite temptations, many a fast observing Muslims are open to their friends eating, indeed it adds to one’s will power to resist the temptation to eat, thus enriching ones’ faith and discipline.
It is customary for a Muslim to ask the other if he were observing the fast, perhaps it may be the desire to be sensitive to the other. However, I would urge one to live his or her own life and not even ask the other and cause discomfort, after all no one but you is responsible for your actions.
One of the most beautiful aspect of Ramadan is the domino effect other Muslims have on you to guard yourselves from greed, anger, ill-will, malice, hate, jealousy and other ills of the society. One feels pious during the month. Of course, there would always a small percentage in a group, who do not receive that wisdom.
Most Muslims pray five times a day and a few do three or two and some none. Prayers are congregational or individual and are performed in the morning, noon, afternoon, evening and the night, bracketing one from getting off the track.
When the time to break the fast approaches towards the sun down, anxiety builds up, it is almost like the count down of seconds when the space shuttle takes off. Muslims make an attempt to be in the congregation or team up with some. A prayer call signifies time to break the fast.
Prophet Muhammad had initiated a healthy way of breaking the fast; it was graduating the empty stomach with munchies like fruits and veggies to prepare the digestive system for a full meal after the prayer break. Dates are the most popular item around the world, they are chewy, meaty and tasty after a long day of fasting, and dates are also a preferred item as it was for the Prophet.
The breaking of fast, also known as “Iftaar” has become a community event, where Muslims invite their non-Muslim friends to join in their celebration of the day. President Clinton started the tradition of holding an Iftaar party carried forward by President Bush and now President Obama. It is a major social event for the politicians, just as it is with Christmas, Rosh Hashanah, Diwali and other festivities.
The night prayers during Ramadan are called Taraweeh, the prayers are much longer than the other times, typically twenty two units of prayers as opposed to four units during the regular nights. All the thirty Chapters of Qur’aan are recited from the Imam’s memory (Hifz) during this month.
At the end of 29th or 30th day, depending on the moon sighting, NASA or other traditions, the fasting would come to an end with the celebration. It is a major event and Muslims gather in a large space do their thanksgiving prayer. The traditional greetings are “Eid Mubarak” (Eid is pronounced as in eel but with a d – it is eed), a near equivalent of Merry Ramadan.
On this day one formally forgives and gets forgiven and starts the year with good will. Every one hugs three times; I am your friend, you are my friend and together we are friends.
Traditionally every one in the family wears new clothing, a symbol of starting over with a clean slate. The oldest one in the family passes on gifts and cash to younger members of the family to spend as they wish and to teach responsibility with freedom.
It is also a time to share one’s wealth with the needy; it is like the tithe and is called Zakat. Every family takes out 2.5% of the value of their assets and passes on to the destitute usually through institutions such as a mosque. It is considered an investment in human capital, to help uplift every one on a level playing field to maintain a sustainable good in the society.
On the culinary side, it is a feast! A variety of dishes are prepared, over the years I have discovered that the most common item around the globe is a dessert made out of vermicelli’s, i.e., hair thin noodles cooked in Milk with nuts, dates, honey and other goodies, it is both in liquid and solid formats.
Though the annual ritual of fasting takes thirty days its true destination is endless. May we always hunger to discover our heart. May we always aspire to find our balance, connect with each other, open our hearts and minds to fellow beings; the joy that comes with it is ours to keep.
For fasting to be truly universal, its benefits must extend beyond the fraternal ties of Muslims and must extend to forging a common humanity with others. Fasting is meant to impart a sense of what it means to be truly human, and its universality is reflected by its observance in Bahai, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jain, Jewish, Sikh, Zoroastrian and other faiths.
Happy Ramadan, Rosh Hashanah and Navaratri.
Does the mainstream public in America, Canada, India, Australia or elsewhere relate with Muslim customs and traditions? The following articles are written with the intent of developing that understanding.
1. Traditions of Ramadan
2. Politics of Ramadan
3. Spirit of Ramadan
4. Our Mission - http://www.foundationforpluralism.com/WorldMuslimCongress/Articles/Mission-Statement.asp
The language chosen is generic and incidences are relational, so the public can relate with what they are familiar with and extrapolate that to the politics, traditions and the spirit of Ramadan. Of course, we can write a book on each. I have learned over the years that news papers have a reason to limit the length of the articles and I have followed that to the best of my ability.
You are welcome to share, forward, comment and make suggestion to make it better in the comments section of each article. You can publish it as well.
(c) copyrighted material, please quote the author and organization if quoting or copying./ Pictures: courtesy of Boston Globe
Mike Ghouse is a Speaker, Thinker and a Writer. He is a frequent guest on talk radio and local television network discussing Pluralism interfaith, political and civic issues. He presides the Foundation for Pluralism and is a founder of the World Muslim Congress with a simple theme: Good for Muslims and good for the world. His comments, news analysis and columns can be found on the Websites and Blogs listed at his personal website www.MikeGhouse.net. Mike is a Dallasite for nearly three decades and Carrollton is his home town. He can be reached at Ghousemike@gmail.com
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PLANNED MUSLIMS RESPONSE TO QUR'AN BURNING BY PASTOR JONES ON 9/11/13 IN MULBERRY, FLORIDA
We as Muslims plan to respond to pastor Terry Jones' planned burning of 3000 copies of Quran on September 11, 2013 in positive terms.
Our response - we will reclaim the standard of behavior practiced by the Prophet concerning “scurrilous and hostile criticism of the Qur’an” (Muhammad Asad Translation Note 31, verse 41:34). It was "To overcome evil with good is good, and to resist evil by evil is evil." It is also strongly enjoined in the Qur’an in the same verse 41:34, “Good and evil deeds are not equal. Repel evil with what is better; then you will see that one who was once your enemy has become your dearest friend.”
God willing Muslims will follow the divine guidance and pray for the restoration of Goodwill, and on that day many Muslim organizations will go on a “blood drive” to save lives and serve humanity with kindness.
We invite fellow Americans of all faiths, races, and ethnicities to join us to rededicate the pledge, “One nation under God”, and to build a cohesive America where no American has to live in apprehension, discomfort or fear of fellow Americans. This event is a substitute for our 10th Annual Unity Day Celebration (www.UnitydayUSA.com) held in Dallas, but now it will be at Mulberry, Florida.
Unwittingly Pastor Jones has done us a favor by invigorating us by his decision to burn nearly 3000 copies Quran on September 11, 2013. Obviously he is not satisfied by the notoriety he garnered by burning one Qur'an last year.
As Muslims and citizens we honor the free speech guaranteed in our constitution. We have no intentions to criticize, condemn or oppose Pastor Terry Jones' freedom of expression. Instead, we will be donating blood and praying for goodness to permeate in our society.
We plan to follow Jesus Christ (pbuh), a revered prophet in Islam as well as Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) – that of mitigating the conflicts and nurturing good will for the common good of the society.
We hope, this event and the message will remind Muslims elsewhere in the world as well, that violence is not the way. Muslims, who react violently to senseless provocation, should realize that, violence causes more violence, and besmirches the name of the religion that we hold so dear. We believe that Prophet Muhammad was a mercy to the mankind, and we ought to practice what we believe and preach. We must not insult Islam by the negative reactions of a few.
We can only hope it will bring about a change in the attitude of the followers of Pastor Jones, and in the behavior of those Muslims who reacted violently the last time Pastor sought notoriety – We hope this small step towards a bridge to peaceful coexistence would propel us towards building a cohesive society.
Like most Americans a majority of Muslims quietly go about their own business, but it is time to speak up and take positive action instead of negative reaction. May this message of peace and goodwill reverberate and reach many shores.
Lastly, we appreciate the Citizens of Mulberry, Florida, Honorable Mayor George Hatch, City Commissioners, police and Fire Chiefs for handing this situation very well. This will add a ‘feather of peace’ in the City’s reputation. We hope Mulberry will be a catalyst in showing the way in handling conflict with dignity and peace.
We thank the Media for giving value to the work towards peace rather than conflict.