Ramadan, the Muslims’ month of fasting, starts on Saturday 22 August and continues until Saturday 19 September. Fasting during Ramadan is Islam’s ‘fourth pillar of worship’.
Adult Muslims, except for the sick and those travelling, abstain from food, drink, smoking and sex from first light until sunset.
Ramadan brings out a feeling of emotional excitement and religious zeal among all Muslims. Adults strive to double their rewards from Allah and seek forgiveness for past sins.
Many volunteer to clean mosques. They paint walls, clean floors and buy new furniture for the many worshippers during the ‘holy’ month. ‘We are preparing the mosque for Ramadan’, the imam of a local mosque told me. Loudspeakers recite the Qur’an during Tarawih (nightly prayers). ‘This is how we show our joy, welcoming the holy fasting month’.
A typical day begins on rising around 4.30am to share a meal (Sahur) together, before the fast begins at dawn and the first of five daily prayers (Fajr) is offered.
As the day continues, Muslims continually remind themselves that they are fasting to please Allah and seek his mercy. The second and third prayers are offered during early and late afternoon.
Ramadan is a month of charity and generosity. Muslims are encouraged to help those who are financially and emotionally needy. Some believe the spiritual reward earned during this month is multiplied seventy times and more.
The fast is broken at sunset. Muhammad recommended doing this by eating dates. Just after breaking fast, and before dinner, Muslims offer the fourth of the five daily prayers (Maghrib).
After dinner, they go to mosques to offer the last prayer(Isha). The day ends with a special voluntary prayer (Taraweeh) offered by the congregation as they recite the Qur’an.
Many Muslims admit to becoming more irritable during Ramadan. Food and sleep deprivation can cause an increase in violent behaviour.
People have to contend with a general exhaustion that attends the loss of sleep and increase of hunger. ‘Some see fasting as an obligation and therefore resort to hostile actions as a protest against this obligation’, said Moroccan sociologist Ali Shabani (Magharebia Newspaper, Casablanca, 21/09/08).
In Morocco, it never crossed Abdallah’s mind that one day he would be responsible for his brother’s death. Just before breaking their fast on 13 September 2008, a heated argument in their Casablanca home quickly got out of control. Rachid is now dead; Abdallah had bludgeoned him with an iron bar.
Abdallah was a drug addict who abstained from drugs for Ramadan. Probably this is why he lost control. Although an extreme case, this is just one true example of Ramadan’s increase in violence.
Night of power
The last ten days of Ramadan are considered especially blessed, particularly the twenty-seventh night, or Laylatu al Qadr (night of power/destiny).
This night is described in the Qur’an as ‘better than a thousand months’ (Surah 97:3). On this occasion, Muhammad is supposed to have received his first revelation of the Qur’an.
According to a hadith (record of his sayings and deeds), he declared that ‘whoever prays during the night of power with faith and hoping for its reward will have all his previous sins forgiven’. So it is marked by heightened spiritual intensity. Some take the day off work and stay up all night to pray and recite the Qur’an in the mosque.
After 29-30 days of fasting, the end of Ramadan is observed by a day of celebration called Eid-ul-Fitr. Muslims gather to offer prayers of thanks. It is traditional to wear new clothes, visit friends and relatives, exchange gifts, eat a feast prepared for the occasion, and wait patiently for the next year.
But it was Jesus Christ, not Muhammad, who said: ‘Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God’ (John 3:3). How we long for our Muslim friends to have the same assurance of sins forgiven that Christians have.
Christians know that their sins have been blotted out, not on account of their own righteousness, but because of Christ’s atoning work on the cross. Nothing can separate believers in Jesus
Christ from God’s love (Romans 8:31-39).
Pray that Muslims will realise that true forgiveness is found in Jesus Christ, and not through their own works of piety (Titus 3:4-7).
We should also pray for Christians from Muslim backgrounds. They face many struggles and great pressure from their families and communities during Ramadan.
Pray for Christians witnessing to Muslims, particularly in Muslim countries. Often Muslims express their ‘piety’ during Ramadan by refusing to converse with Christians, or even by showing overt hostility towards them.
E. M. Hicham
The author (www.emhicham.org) is a founder member of MEC Word of Hope Ministries (www.word-of-hope.net). He has authored Your questions answered: a reply to Muslim friendsand How shall they hear? (Ambassador International) Sharing your Christian faith with Muslims(EP Books).