Ramadan is Islam’s holy month. Muslims observe it by fasting from dawn until dark every day for thirty days. Christians often wonder about this practice because it seems unusual to us. Let’s take a closer look at Ramadan so we can better understand our Muslim neighbors. Jesus said to love our neighbors (and that includes Muslims) so a good place to start loving someone is to try to understand the person.
Ramadan holds special significance for Muslims and it also offers Christians an opportunity to pray for them as Muslims, even marginal ones, have a heightened spiritual awareness during this time.
The Islamic Calendar
The exact dates of Ramadan vary from year to year because the Islamic calendar is based on the lunar cycle. The month of Ramadan is the ninth month. Ramadan begins when the first crescent moon is spotted. Sometimes families search the sky a couple nights in a row to determine which night will officially mark the beginning of Ramadan. Often, however, an Imam (Muslim holy man) will declare the exact starting date so everyone will observe Ramadan in unison.
The Significance of Ramadan
Ramadan brings out excitement, anticipation, and religious zeal for Muslims, much like the Christmas season does for Christians. Muslims pray, fast, give alms to the poor, and read the entire Quran during the month of Ramadan. They believe any good thing they do this month will be doubly rewarded. Some believe a reward earned this month is multiplied 70 times, so it is a month of charity and generosity.
There’s also a spiritual expectation during Ramadan as they spend time in prayer, fasting, and reading the Quran. They believe there is a heightened possibility of receiving dreams and visions from Allah, an experience which they eagerly anticipate. They particularly hold the last ten days of Ramadan as a more spiritual time during which such supernatural experiences may occur.
The First Evening of Ramadan
The first evening of Ramadan is often marked by families spending the evening outside, looking for the first sign of the crescent moon. They often have social gatherings on this night, filled with plenty of food before they begin fasting for Ramadan.
Fasting during Ramadan
Fasting helps a person experience an empty stomach and thereby identify with how a hungry person feels. By sharing in the sufferings of those less fortunate, they learn to appreciate the blessings of Allah. But their hunger also helps them become more sensitive to the needs of others. Muslims are encouraged to offer daily alms and do good deeds to help the poor and needy during this time.
Another aspect of fasting is the self-control gained from abstaining from food. They believe a month of discipline in this way helps them be disciplined in avoiding vices the rest of the year.
A day of fasting begins by getting up before dawn, around 4:30 a.m., and having a meal before the fast begins at dawn. At dawn they begin the first of their five daily prayers. They offer the second prayers during the early afternoon and the third prayers during the late afternoon.
The fast is broken at sunset by eating dates. After breaking the fast, they offer the fourth set of daily prayers. Then they have dinner and go to the mosque to offer the final of the five daily prayers.
The Last Ten Days of Ramadan
The last ten days of Ramadan are marked by a heightened spiritual intensity. Many Muslims spend these nights praying and reciting the Quran. They pray to receive dreams and visions or other supernatural experiences such as miracles during this time.
The Night of Power (or the Night of Destiny)
Muslims believe the prophet Muhammad received his first revelation of the Quran on the 27th night of Ramadan. For this reason, they recount the story to their children and commemorate the occasion. Beyond that, they believe there is special power available for spiritual revelation on the 27th. That’s why they call it the Night of Power or the Night of Destiny.
The Feast (or Festival) of Breaking the Fast
At the end of the month of Ramadan, the first day of the month of Shawwal is dedicated as a day of feasting. It is the one day of the year on which Muslims are prohibited from fasting. Muslims start this day with a breakfast of dates. They give required alms to the poor before having a special prayer service at their mosque. Afterwards, the day is filled with gatherings of friends, feasts, and fun.