Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, and is noted as the month of fasting. During this month, most Muslims fast everyday from dawn till dusk. This fast includes abstinence from food, drink, smoking, and sexual relations. Furthermore, foul talk, lustful thoughts, and vain speech is even more discouraged than normal.
The religion of Islam is based on five pillars. These pillars include:
- Testifying there is no deity worthy of worship besides Allah, and that Muhammad is His messenger.
- Prayer five times a day at the appointed times.
- Fasting during the month of Ramadan.
- Giving a portion of one’s wealth in charity to the poor and needy.
- Making a pilgrimage to the Kaaba in Mecca at least once in a lifetime.
Fasting is the third pillar and has a very important role in Islam. While Muslims may fast throughout the year, fasting during the month of Ramadan is an obligatory action just like praying and giving charity. However, some people are exempt from this obligation. This is discussed further below.
Muslims are commanded to fast in the Koran. In Chapter 2, verse 183, Allah tells us: You who believe, fasting is prescribed on you as it was prescribed on those before you, so that you may learn self-restraint.
When Allah says ‘those who came before you,’ He is referring to Jews and Christians since they follow books and prophets that came before the Koran and Muhammad. Therefore, Allah is telling us that Jews and Christians were ordered to fast as well. There is ample evidence of this statement in both the Old Testament and the New Testament.
- Moses fasted while on the mountain for forty days and forty nights.
- In order to avoid punishment from God as prophesied by Jonah, the people of Nineveh fasted.
- Jesus fasted for forty days and forty nights in the desert.
We can see that fasting was practiced well before the time of Prophet Muhammad and the establishment of the religion of Islam. Jews still fast on certain days of the year, and some sects of Christianity, most notably Catholics and Orthodox Christians, also fast on certain days. However, very few Protestant denominations mandate fasting, though many do encourage it among their faithful.
The Islamic fast has many benefits. For example, since most fasting is done during a certain month, there is a sense of community and belonging. It is nothing short of amazing that over a billion people the world over are all fasting at the same time.
Furthermore, even though both rich and poor must fast, the wealthy amongst us have the opportunity to feel some of the hardship experienced by those less fortunate. In addition to this, since Ramadan is also known as the month of charity, the poor also have the chance to gain from the enhanced benevolence of the wealthy during this time.
Some people are exempt from fasting.
- Muslims who are traveling do not have to fast.
- Pregnant and nursing women do not have to fast.
- Muslims who are sick do not have to fast.
- Menstruating women do not have to fast, though it must be made up later.
The month of Ramadan begins and ends with the sighting of the new moon. When the month ends, Muslims celebrate the end of Ramadan with Eid ul Fitr, one of only two Islamic holidays.