March 22, 2023

Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, is a month of required fasting (sawm), special devotions and intensified study of the Holy Quran. The Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar; the lunar months varying in length between 29 and 30 days. Fasting through the entire month of Ramadan is the fourth pillar in practicing Islam.

In Chicago, the month of Ramadan begins the evening of March 22. The start of the new month is judged from the sighting of the crescent moon. This involves two considerations: how the new crescent is sighted and how far geographically is this sighting valid. However, once it starts ,it is required (fard) that a Muslim fast the month in its entirety. The legal rulings of the fast have three elements: preparation, duration and what the actual fasting entails.

As with all devotional acts of Islam, preparation for the fast requires a conscious intention at the outset. Without conscious intention, the fast is invalid. A daily preparation for fasting is a pre-dawn meal (suhur), although not recommended, but highly commendable (mustahab). Normally high in protein and liquids, the meal sustains the observer through sunset, when the fast may be broken. The fast begins at dawn(Fajr) while prayer continues until the adhaan (or azaan) for the sunset (Maghrib) prayer. It is prophetic practice (sunnah) to break the fast with one or three dates, and a necessary dua or invocation: “The thirst is gone, the veins are moistened and the reward is confirmed, if Allah wills.”

The evening meal, after Maghrib, is called Iftaar and may be a communal or a family affair. In Old Delhi, in the dargah of Gharib Nawaaz, Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, it is customary to prepare vats of biryani for iftaar (rice layered with mutton, or rice layered with vegetables). Preset portions are made available to anyone who comes to the dargah, irrespective of religion and observance of Ramadan.

Fasting requires abstinence from eating, drinking, sensual acts; anything that reaches the stomach. This may include inhalation of cigarette smoke or water ingested while showering. There are exceptions from fasting for those with health concerns, the elderly, pregnant and nursing mothers. The fast has an inward, spiritual dimension. Fasting is meant to weaken the ego (nafs), which is essential to the work of self-purification. In essence, the spiritual fast is the real point of the physical one. In abstinence, Ramadan also serves to remind the faithful what the less fortunate experience.

Among the odd-numbered nights of the last 10 days of Ramadan is Laylat al-Qadr, the Night of Power. On this day, the Arch-angel Gabriel revealed the very first Quranic verses to the Prophet (SAWS). This year it falls on April 17.

Ramadan closes with the sighting of the new crescent moon next month, Shawwal. The first day of Shawwal is Eid-al-Fitr, or the Festival of Completing the Fast. It is forbidden (haraam) to fast on this day. The fast comes to an end after the Festival Prayer (Salat al-Eid), when it is customary to wish Eid Mubaarak and feast on local delicacies (such as biryani and pheni, in Delhi). It is a day of community and joy, people don new clothes, and children look forward to their Idhi, small gifts of money, which they receive from their parents on this day.

Ramadan Kareem, or Ramzaan Mubaarak, as we would say in India!