Citation for Ramadan

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MLA

Ahmad, Anis . "Ramadan." In The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World. Oxford Islamic Studies Online. May 25, 2022. <http://www.oxfordislamicstudies.com/article/opr/t236/e0667>.

Chicago

Ahmad, Anis . "Ramadan." In The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World. Oxford Islamic Studies Online, http://www.oxfordislamicstudies.com/article/opr/t236/e0667 (accessed May 25, 2022).

Ramadan

Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar (the hijrah calendar), is the only month specifically mentioned in the Qurʿān. The name is drawn from the root word r-m-d, which refers to heat of summer. It was in the second year of hijrah (the Muslim Era), prior to the battle of Badr, that believers, men and women, were commanded to fast from dawn to dusk for the whole month.

Fasting plays an important role in achieving individual piety (taqwā), spiritual purification (tazkīyah al-nafs) and strengthening one's relation with his Creator in most of the world religions. Ramadan, however, is unique as a month in which transcending individual virtue and inculcating a sense of belonging to a global community (ummah), social cohesion, and togetherness are reinforced among the members of the community. The month is described by the Qurʿān (2:185) as the period in which “whoever among the believers witnesses the month should fast.”

Ramadan is also mentioned as the month in which the Qurʿān was historically first revealed. The hadith critics and the exegetes have reached a consensus that the first five verses of the ninety-sixth chapter of the Qurʿān (known as al-ʿAlaq, or “The Embryo”) were the first part of the revelation that the Prophet received in the cave of Mount ḥirāʿ outside Mecca. Since the Qurʿān specifically mentions that the Qurʿān was revealed in the month of Ramadan, some scholars hold that not only the first five verses of this chapter but the whole of the Qurʿān was revealed at once during that Ramadan.

The month of Ramadan generally consists of twenty-nine days, but an extra day is added if the moon of Shawwāl is not sighted. The fast (Ṣawm, pl. Ṣiyam) begins with dawn and terminates at sunset. This unique mix of lunar and solar systems makes sighting the moon of Ramadan a collective activity of the Muslim community all over the world. Muslims in North America or South Africa or Scandinavian countries search for the moon on the last day of Shaʿbān, the eighth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. Similarly members of the community, and in some countries an official body of scholars, receive eyewitness reports of the sighting of the moon and declare the beginning or the end of the month of Ramadan. A group of modern Muslim scholars are of the view that the beginning of the month can be based on calculations. The discourse on the observing of the start of the month of Ramadan has not led to any consensus, for reasons of geography. A Prophetic tradition elaborating on the Qurʿānic verse about the sighting of the moon specifies “Begin Ramadan with sighting of moon and if the moon for Shawwāl is not sighted on the twenty-ninth evening of Ramadan, complete thirty fasts” (Muslim al- Ṣaḥīḥ, Kitāb al-Ṣawm, hadīth 2363, 2368).

During the month of Ramadan, adult Muslims have to abstain, from dawn until sunset, from intake of any liquid or solid food, and from sexual contact. The literal meaning of Ṣawm in Arabic is “to abstain” or “to contain.” This prohibition is expected to inculcate in practicing Muslims, male and female, several positive behavioral qualities. While fasting in the month of Ramadan, a believer is motivated to be polite, kind, truthful, honest, fair, and dutiful. Several aḥādῑth (sing. ḥadīth) of the Prophet mention that Allāh has no interest in asking a person to abstain from enjoying fresh water, food, or sex if the person does not stop shouting at others, is unfair to his family and friends, or betrays the trust of his business partner. For one whole month a conscious and honest effort is made by a believer to shun negative thinking and inculcate in him- or herself a positive and proactive approach for the betterment of the members of society and society itself.

Since Ramadan is a lunar month, it moves forward about eleven days a year. If in 2007 Ramadan falls on September 14, in 2008 it will begin on September 2. In this way, in a period of thirty-three years one full cycle is completed. Consequently in some years fasting is done in the extreme heat of summer with its longer days, while in other years fasting occurs in more moderate temperatures and for a shorter time. For example, in Egypt (approximately 27° N) in July, daytime temperatures might average between 95 and 100° F during the more than 13 hours of daylight experienced there, but in January the temperatures might average only around 68° during a mere 10½ hours of daylight. And of course, the further away from the equator, the shorter the days in winter and the longer they are in summer. For example, Muslims in Stockholm (nearly 60° N) will fast for nearly 18½ hours in July, but for only 5½ hours in January.

Ramadan is defined in a ḥadīth as a month in which heavenly blessing is showered and evil tendencies are minimized by the chaining of Satan (Muslim al-Ṣaḥīḥ, Kitāb al-Ṣawm, ḥadīth 2361). The Qurʿānic verse prescribes fasting in the month of Ramadan, while at the same time declaring its objective. “Believers, fasting is enjoined upon you, as it was enjoined upon those before you, that you may become Allāh-conscious” (2:183). To achieve Allāh-consciousness a believer tries to spend as much wealth and resources as he or she can afford on charities and deserving persons all over the globe.

Ramadan is a month totally devoted to developing a deep sense of interaction with Allāh's revelation in speech (kalām Allāh) or the Qurʿān. Every evening after the regular obligatory prayer Ṣalāt al-tarāwīḥ, an additional prayer (ṣalāh) is offered. This consists of eight longer units or twenty units of shorter durations. The purpose is not to make eight or twenty extra units of prayer, but to listen to a reasonable portion (around 1/29) of the whole text of the Qurʿān in one evening. The recitation of the Qurʿān is made from first chapter to the last chapter in the same sequences. For around an hour and a half to two hours the congregation listens with total concentration to the recitation in regular prayer units. Tarāwīḥ begins with the sighting of the moon on the first of Ramadan and ends with the sighting of the moon on the twenty-ninth or thirtieth of Ramadan.

The Qurʿān tries to correct a misconception that fasting should cause hardship. It links fasting with the capacity of a person. A sick person, a terminally ill person, or someone who is weak due to old age is allowed to miss the fast but they must feed a person as compensation (    fidyah). However, a traveler, a person who recovers from a temporary health problem, or a woman who completes pregnancy can make up for the number of fasting days missed during Ramadan in a later part of the year. This relaxation of the requirement is given a normative status by the Qurʿān as a principle of yusr or easiness.

In order to discourage believers from fasting continuously after the month of Ramadan under the pretext of elevating spirituality, the Prophet specifically declares “if someone were to fast all the time [i.e., without a break] he would not be considered a faster” (Bukhari, Sahīh, vol. 1., Kitāb al-sawm). Another hadīth recommends that one must avoid keeping two or more fasts together without having proper nutritive food in between.

The last ten days of Ramadan further intensify the desire and urge of a believer to concentrate on learning more from the Qurʿān and to think more on the scripture. It is a practice highly recommended by the Prophet to spend the last ten days of Ramadan in a mosque (perform iʿtikaf). During this period a person is supposed to recite and listen to the Qurʿān, try to think deeply on its meaning, do self-criticism, and learn from the scholars. During this time a person cannot visit his home nor go out of the masjid (mosque). This period ends with the sighting of the moon of Shawwāl. Women make their iʿtikaf in their home.On the odd-numbered nights of the last ten days of Ramadan the Prophet used to make a remembrance (dhikr) of Allāh in addition to the salāt al-tarāwīh. According to the Qurʿān it was on one of these odd-numbered nights during the last ten days of Ramadan that the Qurʿān was revealed. “Behold. We revealed this (Qurʿān) on the night of Power, and what will explain to you what the Night of Power is? The Night of Power is better than a thousand months …” (Qurʿān 97: 1–3). All over the world Muslims young and old, men and women, try to sit vigil during the odd-numbered nights (i.e., 21, 23, 25, 27 and 29) of Ramadan. Thus the believer is taken to the peak of a spiritual, intellectual, and devotional encounter with his or her Creator, Allāh, as the month of Ramadan comes to an end.

Ramadan is a month of enormous social, economic, and cultural importance. It is Prophetic sunnah (example) to offer, if not a sumptuous meal, at least a date and a glass of milk to break the fast of a stranger. This results practically every evening in an exchange of visits and a sharing of food among members of the community in a festive manner. Ramadan boosts trade in the Muslim community. Though believers are supposed to eat less in order to appreciate how hunger-stricken people live their life, in reality a rich variety of food is prepared during Ramadan in every Muslim home all over the world. Those in Southeast Asia enjoy North African dates while those in North America enjoy South Asian spices. Rich and poor try to wear new clothing to celebrate ʿĪd al Fiṭr or the culmination of Ramadan.

Ramadan comes with a culture of strong values and an intensive ethical orientation. It is not simply a time to abstain from enjoying food and sex during the day but a month in which the mind and body are disciplined in ethical behavior. The Prophetic pronouncement is, “If someone does not stop telling lies and promoting falsehood during the fast, then know, Allāh does not want a person to simply stop eating and drinking” (Bukhārī, Kitāb al-sawm, hadīth 127).

Ramadan has been called by the Prophet the month of brotherhood and forgiveness and blessings. He further stresses that during this month one should try to be kind and compassionate to one's subordinates, workers, and even those one may not like.

Fasting in the month of Ramadan should not be considered an exercise in denouncing the pleasure one draws from food or sex. The Qurʿān and Prophet most strongly condemn self-mortification and celibacy. It essentially is a month-long ethical and moral orientation program in order to learn how to manage time, food, and other resources; how to build interpersonal relations; and while fully involved in so-called worldly activities to seek guidance from the Qurʿānic work ethic in making economic, social, and cultural behavior both ethical and moral. Ramadan tries to make an ethical paradigm shift in the conduct, mind-set, and transactions of an individual in the society.

Two events other than the Qurʿānic revelation are historical landmarks associated with the month of Ramadan. The first armed conflict that established the legitimacy of the city-state of Medina after the Prophet's migration (hijrah) from Mecca took place on the 17th of Ramadan in the second year of hijrah (624 CE). The other event that changed the map of Arabia and the world was the conquest of Mecca on the 20th of Ramadan in the eighth year of hijrah (630 CE).

See also ISLAMIC CALENDAR; PILLARS OF ISLAM; AND ṢAWM.

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