Did you know, around 1.8 billion Muslims across the globe practice self-restraint and self-discipline during the month of Ramadan?
Ramadan, starting 12 April this year, is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. It is, in fact, the most sacred month of the lunar year in Islamic tradition.
In this hold month, Muslims around the world practice fast from dawn till dusk during a period of 29 to 30 days. They refrain from food, water, and other bad activities as they observe their fast. And they focus on developing a closer and deep connection with Allah.
However, that is not all.
There is more to Ramadan than just fasting and praying.
Being one of the five pillars of the faith, Ramadan has a rich and deep-rooted history.
So, let’s discover the history of Ramadan and uncover some lesser-known facts and traditions about the holy month.
- What Does “Ramadan” Mean?
- When Do Muslims Observe Ramadan?
- What is the Significance of Ramadan in History?
- Why Do People Fast During Ramadan?
- What is the Etiquette of Fasting in Ramadan?
- What Are Some Ramadan Traditions?
- Who is Exempt from Fasting in Ramadan?
- What Are Some Interesting Facts About Ramadan?
- How Is Ramadan Celebrated Across the Globe?
The word “Ramadan” stems from the Arabic root word ‘ar-ramad’ or ‘ramida’.
It means intense scorching heat or scarcity of provisions.
The reason behind the name is Ramadan is because it usually comes around in the hot summers.
As lunar years are around 10 to 11 days shorter than solar years, Ramadan falls on different dates each year.
The start of this 9th month of the Islamic calendar depends on moon sightings across various regions of the world.
So, Ramadan can start on different dates for different countries. That is because lunar calendars follow the phases of the moon.
Ramadan has significant historical importance in Islamic culture. This is because of some very important events that took place during this month, i.e.,
The Night of Power
Laylat-ul-Qadr or the “Night of Power” is the night of Ramadan when Allah brought the Quran down from the Seventh Heaven to the Lowest Heaven.
On Laylat-ul-Qadr, Qur’ān was revealed as guidance for mankind. This holy book has clear signs and lessons to show the right way to mankind and distinguish between right and wrong.
Laylat-al-Qadr is, indeed, the most revered of all the nights in the holy month of Ramadan.
Though the exact date of this night is unknown, most scholars believe that it falls on any of the last five odd nights of the holy month- i.e., 21, 23, 25, 27, 29.
Muslims engage in extensive prayers in these last nights of Ramadan. They believe that on this night, Allah (SWT) forgives all those who seek forgiveness. He bestows his blessings on all who seek refuge in Him.
The First Revelation
Allah revealed Quran slowly over 23 years, after its descent into the Lowest Heaven.
However, history shows that Prophet Muhammad (SAW) received his first revelation at the age of 40 on either the 21st or the 27th of Ramadan, in 610 A.D.
The Prophet often used to seclude himself in the cave of Mount Hira for prayer and reflection. But in Ramadan, The Archangel Jibrīl (AS) met with the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) to reveal the first five verses of the Quran.
The Battle of Badr
Another important event that took place during Ramadan is the Battle of Badr.
In 624 A.D, it was the first time when Muslims of Medina came face to face with the Pagans of Mecca.
This battle turned into a historic victory for Muslims. They defeated around 1300 Pagan fighters, with an army of only 313 Muslims.
Following the revelation of the Quran, Ramadan received its title as the month of fasting and charity.
Allah (SWT) says:
“O you who believe, the fasts have been enjoined upon you as they were enjoined upon those before you, so that you may be God-fearing”
Fasting in Ramadan is obligatory for all Muslims, except for a few exceptions.
In Quran, Allah (SWT) says:
“So those of you who witness the month must fast in it. But the one who is sick, or is on a journey (should fast) as much from other days (as he missed). Allah intends (to provide) ease for you and does not intend (to create) hardship for you. All this is to ensure that you may complete the number (of fasts as prescribed) and proclaim the Takbīr of Allah for having guided you, and (so) that you may be grateful.”
The aim of fasting is not to make people starve themselves.
Instead, the main idea behind fasting is to attain “taqwa”.
Taqwa means to become conscious of the presence of God in your heart. It is about striving through prayer and self-discipline to get closer to the Creator.
During Ramadan, Muslims take part in acts of kindness and virtues. It is their way of doing good deeds and achieving a higher purpose in life.
Besides taqwa, fasting also helps people realize how privileged they are in life.
Feeling hungry and thirsty for 30 days in a row makes Muslims develop empathy for the poor. They become more aware of the harsh conditions the needy have to put up with.
By abstaining from the luxuries of life, people have to ponder about what matters the most.
This self-reflection also helps to bring families and communities together.
Islamic traditions prescribe Muslims to fast during the daylight hours of Ramadan. They fast from dawn to dusk while eating two major meals, Suhur and Iftar.
Suhur is the morning pre-fast meal that Muslims take before dawn or Fajar prayer.
This meal usually includes breakfast foods. However, in some cultures, it can also include dinner items.
As the break of dawn approaches, the fast observers have to stop eating and drinking.
Throughout the day, Muslims have to abstain from food, water, sexual relations, and bad deeds. As otherwise, their fast gets nullified.
At sunset or Maghrib prayer, practicing Muslims break their fast with the evening meal called “Iftar”.
It is often in the form of an elaborate feast filled with delicious foods.
Following this, the fast observers can continue to eat and drink until the next break of dawn.
While fasting, Muslims have to stay on their best behavior.
Islamic guidance advises people not to get involved in smoking, vulgar or sexual acts, or use abusive language. Muslims are also prescribed to stay away from fights, arguments, and engaging in gossip. As these vein acts reduce the rewards of fasting.
Instead, Islam encourages fast observers to spend time in prayer and deep thought. While the body is hungry, meditation and self-reflection feed the soul.
During fasting, Muslims carry on the rest of their day as per normal.
Ramadan is a month of spiritual awakening and purification. Muslims from all races and ethnicities celebrate it each year.
As followers of Islam are spread across the different continents, they come from all different cultures and backgrounds. Every group has its own particular local rituals for the Holy month.
However, some Ramadan traditions are common for all followers.
1. Moon Sighting
Ramadan doesn’t start until the crescent moon for the month is visible in the sky.
That is why most Islamic countries have their own moon-sighting committees. It is their responsibility to officially announce the start of the month.
2. Increased Quran Recitation
Muslims read Quran throughout the year. Yet, in Ramadan, the recitation of the holy book sees a major increase.
This rise in frequency of worship is to purify the heart and inspire obedience in the believer.
After all, Ramadan is the month of the Quran.
3. Taraweeh Prayers
The Taraweeh prayer is a unique feature of Ramadan as this prayer occurs only in this holy month. After the prayer of Isha, Muslims gather in the congregation in mosques to offer Taraweeh.
During the practice, people recite the long chapters and verses of the Quran. The goal is to finish the Quran from cover to cover during the prayer.
Taraweeh prayer is mostly held in mosques. But some may choose to pray at home with their families.
4. Accumulating Good Deeds
During this sacred month, fast observers try to pray, recite Quran, and do good deeds as much as they can.
That is because, in Ramadan, the performance of good acts carries a higher reward than on other days.
Abu Hurayrah, a Companion of the Prophet narrates:
“When Ramadan begins, the gates of Paradise are opened, and the gates of Hell are closed, and the devils are chained up.”
According to this belief, doing bad deeds will fetch Muslims more punishment. Hence, fast observers also abstain from engaging in pointless activities during this month.
5. I’tikaf and Laylat-ul-Qadr Worship
Itikaf is a form of worship that takes place in complete seclusion.
The worshiper separates themselves from others. They spend day and night in the remembrance of Allah.
The purpose of i’tikaf is to spend the last ten days of Ramadan in search of Laylat-ul-Qadr. Muslims believe the destiny of a person, for the next year, is decided on the Night of Power.
So, by engaging in prayer, practicing Muslims hope to reap the rewards of their devotion.
6. Zakat and Charity
Charity is a vital part of the concept of Ramadan.
Muslims have to abstain from the pleasures of the world during this time. And to further eliminate the love of material things, they give away a portion of their wealth to the needy and poor.
Zakat, a form of charity, is the third pillar of the faith.
It is mandatory for anyone, who has enough capital, to pay zakat on his wealth.
The Prophet Muhammad (SAW) says:
Besides zakat, Muslims also take part in donating through other means. They give gifts, donate food and clothes to those in need.
Ramadan is a month of giving, and Muslims fully embrace it.
7. Zakat al-Fitr (Fitrana)
Since Islam encourages helping the poor and needy, it advises Muslims to pay Zakat al-Fitr (Fitrana) at the end of Ramadan.
Usually, the head of the house pays Zakat al-Fitr for their dependents such as children, spouse, servants, and any other dependent person.
The minimum amount due per member of the household for this zakat is equivalent to 2kg of wheat flour or other staple food.
Zakat al-Fitr is paid to needy and poor Muslims before Eid-ul Fitr prayer or during Ramadan so that they can enjoy the Eid day.
The Eid celebrations occur on 1st Shawwal, marking the end of Ramadan.
It is a time of celebration for all Muslims. People gather with their family and friends to enjoy delicious feasts and the company of each other. They wear new clothes and offer their Eid prayers in the congregation. Gifts “EIDI” are also distributed among children and family members as a symbol of love and joy.
This event is a way of showing gratitude to God. It is also a gift of relief for all fast observers. It is not allowed to fast on the three days of the Eid celebration.
Children Don’t Have to Fast
Kids are not required to start observing fast until they reach the age of puberty. However, they can choose to fast if it is their wish.
Exceptions to Fasting
While fasting is mandatory for healthy adults, there are some exceptions to the rule.
People excused from fasting include travelers, those suffering from illness, and older individuals who are physically unwell. Likewise, pregnant, menstruating, or nursing women are also part of the exclusion.
Accidentally Breaking Your Fast
If a Muslim breaks their fast unintentionally, there is no sin on them. Rather, they can make up the fast later on another day.
Besides being the month of spiritual healing, fasting in Ramadan also helps heal the body.
Due to not eating and drinking during the day, the digestive system gets to rest and detoxifies itself.
The liver also releases toxins previously stored in the body to give your health a new start.
Let Go of Old Habits
Ramadan is a great time to get rid of bad habits. Whether it is swearing or negative thinking, practicing self-discipline changes you for the better.
Besides this, if you are a smoker or eat unnecessarily, fasting may be the right cure for you.
In fact, doctors suggest fasting as a way to curb smoking addiction.
Control Cholesterol Levels
Staying away from food during the holy month promotes healthy weight loss.
But that is not all.
Lower levels of fat in the body have a transformative effect on your overall health.
After Ramadan, patients usually show an improved lipid profile. That means the levels of bad cholesterol drop in the bloodstream. This lowering of lipid also lowers your chances of getting a stroke or a heart attack.
So, making healthy choices in Ramadan can be a complete game-changer for your health.
By now, you have learned a lot about Ramadan facts and traditions. However, there is yet more to come.
Here are some interesting facts about this holy month we are sure you have never heard before.
Shorter Working Hours
Muslim countries shorten working hours during the month of Ramadan. Cutting work short makes more time for prayer and worship during the month.
Dates: The Food of Choice
According to Islamic teachings, it is best to break your fast with dates.
This fruit is high in fiber and carbohydrates. It is quick to stabilize the blood sugar level after a long day.
But in case there are no dates available, water is sufficient to break the fast.
Different Time Lengths
Hence Muslims fast from dawn till dusk during Ramadan, which means the timings of fast can differ greatly between countries.
The length of fasts also varies with the location of the country as well as the season.
So, the timing can range from 12 hours near the equator to over 22 hours in Northern European regions.
Shiite and Sunni Fasts
The two major sects of Islam have a slight difference of opinion on when to break the fast.
Sunni Muslims break their fast when the sun has just gone below the horizon.
Shiite, on the other hand, wait a little longer until all rays of sunlight have disappeared.
How Is Ramadan Celebrated Across the Globe?
24% of the population on Earth holds a firm belief in Allah and His final Messenger, Prophet Muhammad.
And with constant growth, Islam is now the fastest-growing religion in the world. Of course, this also means Islam has a very diverse group of followers.
Here is how Muslims in various countries add a hint of their local culture to Ramadan traditions.
Muslims in Indonesia perform the act of “Padusan” ahead of Ramadan.
This practice means to purify and cleanse the worshiper. The believer submerges himself into springs and other natural pools of water. The act washes off all impurities.
In Javanese culture, soaking yourself from head to toe in a natural body of water is considered a must before every Ramadan.
The land of Pyramids, Egypt has a rich cultural background.
Therefore, it is no surprise that the Islamic traditions in the area also derive inspiration from its past.
It is a norm in Egypt to decorate the streets and buildings with intricately designed lanterns during Ramadan. These beautiful lanterns add much to the ambient atmosphere of Ramadan.
This tradition has been long preserved since the Fatimid Caliphate. In those days, such lanterns were lit up at night to guide the worshipers going to the mosque.
Two of the holiest mosques, Khana Kaba and Masjid-e-Nabwi, in the world belong to Saudi Arabia. Due to this fact, the atmosphere during Ramadan is full of a sense of serene spirituality.
Moreover, during iftar, the smells of fresh Arabic coffee, baked bread, and karkade emanate from every household.
It is a local tradition to visit the houses of elder relatives during this month. Of course, these visits are not complete without fresh and tasty food.
Saudis break their fast in a very basic traditional way with plain water and dates.
Following these come other native delicacies such as Kenafa and Samboosa.
Ramadan in Pakistan goes hand in hand with lavish traditional foods.
Pakoras, Samosas, and the famous red drink grace the tables of many common households in the country.
Moreover, before it is time for Suhur, a drummer marches in the streets to wake up Muslims from their slumber. Mosques also blow sirens at the time of Suhur and Iftar to let Muslims know when to stop eating or when to break the fast.
The last night of Ramadan, “Chaand Raat”, is quite a significant celebration in the region.
People, particularly women, make their way to the markets to go on last-minute shopping sprees. While traditional bangles and clothes adorn the various shops and stand on the streets.
Another South Asian tradition that is heavily prevalent in Pakistan is that of Henna application. You can find many vendors selling Henna cones in the market. Women wait in line on Henna application stalls to get their hands covered in beautiful Henna tattoos.
Norway has a Muslim population of around 200,000.
While Islam is spreading fast in the land of the midnight sun, the conditions are not exactly ideal for fasting.
As Muslims in the region have to fast from dusk till dawn, the length of the fast can go up to 20 hours.
This is because daylight hours are very long in Norway and Iceland.
Some areas in Norway, such as the city of Tromsø, see the Sun in the sky all day long.
So for their ease, the Muslim inhabitants of these cities have two options. They can fast according to the timings of Makkah. Or they can follow the timings of the nearest city that has both sunsets and sunrises.
Because of the reign of The Ottoman Empire, Islamic traditions are still very much alive in modern-day Turkey. Back in The Ottoman days, there were no digital alarm clocks. So, someone had to make sure that no one was missing their pre-fast meal.
Just like the Ottoman era, a drummer marches in the streets before Suhur to wake people up for Suhur meal.
Another element that is unique to Turkey is the delicious Ramadan pita bread. On the streets, bakers skillfully prepare this flatbread just in time for iftar.
These are always high in demand. So, you will have to stand in a long line to get one for yourself.
It is common for men in Iraq to engage in some light-hearted fun during the day.
And Ramadan days are no exception.
Along with worship and prayer, men in Iraq also love the hearty game of Mheibes.
It is a simple yet enjoyable game that has come down from past generations.
After breaking their fast, these men gather in groups to play the game.
To Wrap it Up
Ramadan is a sacred month of Islam when Muslims across the globe observe fast and other good deeds. Various cultures celebrate this sacred month according to their own local traditions. These have come down from generation to generation.
In this article, we have tried to discuss all about Ramadan, its significance, history, traditions, and facts.
If you still have any queries about the Ramadan traditions, feel free to contact us at (insert ph) or (insert email). We will be happy to guide you.