Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
December 16, 2000
Byline: Mahmood Khan
As homes and shopping malls are decorated for the coming holiday season of Christmas and stores are buzzing with consumers hunting for special bargains, Muslims living in America and around the world are also in the process of observing some very special days, Ramadan, the month of fasting.
Fasting for Muslims, is a mandatory act of worship and an important pillar of the religion of Islam, providing numerous spiritual and physical benefits, both for the individual and for the society.
Fasting requires a Muslim to abstain from any amount of food, water and sex from dawn to sunset for 30 days.
Islamic practices are based on the lunar calendar.
The month of Ramadan (the month of fasting) is the ninth Islamic month and begins with the sighting of the new moon. This year the month of Ramadan began Nov. 27 and will end Dec. 26.
Though fasting is only mandatory for adults, children as young as eight willingly fast with their elders. Ramadan brings out a special feeling of emotional excitement and religious zeal among Muslims of all ages.
Children look forward to the excitement of sighting the moon and eating special meals with their families. Adults look forward to the opportunity to double their rewards from God and seek forgiveness for their past sins. All feel a particular bond toward their creator and among their families and friends.
In addition to this spiritual closeness, an individual seeks to transform his whole physical and emotional self during the 30 days of fasting.
A typical day of fasting for a Muslim begins at 4 am with a special meal called sahoor, eaten before dawn when the fast begins. As the dawn breaks, Muslims render their first of the five daily prayers.
As the day proceeds, the fasting person is constantly bombarded with messages from his stomach that it is time for breakfast, lunch or snack. Each time, a Muslim has to remind himself that he is fasting for the sole intent to please God and seeking his mercy.
Throughout the day, Muslims are highly encouraged to go out of their way to assist the needy in all ways conceivable. It is believed that a reward earned during this month is rewarded 70 times and more. For this reason, Ramadan is also recognized as the month of charity and generosity.
To a Muslim, fasting not only means abstaining from food, drinks and sex from dawn to sunset, but also from all vices and evils. It is believed that if one volunteers to refrain from lawful food and sex, he or she will be in a better shape to shun the unlawful.
The fast is broken right after sunset with a meal called Iftar. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), whom the Muslims believe to be the last Prophet appointed by God as an example of excellence for all of humanity, recommended Muslims break their fast with dates. Muslims often invite relatives, friends and neighbors to break fast with them.
After the dinner, Muslims go to the Mosque (house of worship) to offer additional prayers called the Taraweeh prayer. The day ends with this prayer. The entire process begins again the next day at 4 am.
At the termination of the 30 days of fasting, the end of the month of Ramadan is observed with a day of celebration and thankfulness to God, called Eidul-Fitr. On this auspicious day Muslims from around the city assemble at one location to extend a prayer of gratitude. It is traditional to wear new attire, visit friends and relatives, exchange gifts, and feast on delicious dishes created for this occasion.
Besides contributing immense spiritual blessings, fasting also presents numerous medical and psychological benefits. It aids in getting rid of harmful toxins and fatty substances that accumulate in our bodies, while purifying the blood stream and rejuvenating the entire system.
For those engaged in unhealthy habits such as over-eating or smoking, the self-control and discipline exercised during Ramadan can furnish an excellent beginning to ‘kick out’ these harmful inclinations. Fasting helps one to experience the hunger of a hungry person and the needs of someone who is destitute. It eventually guides one to lead a disciplined, healthy, selfless and pious life and to appreciate the bounties of God, which are usually taken for granted.
School, colleges and Islamic centers around the USA hold special lectures and seminars on Ramadan and Islam during this month. To learn more about the month of Ramadan and Islam contact: 1-800-662- Islam or E-mail: chooseislam@@yahoo.com.
Mahmood Khan is with the Interfaith Department ICNA, Chicago. ICNA (Islamic Circle of North America) is a nationwide organization serving and representing millions of Muslims in the United States.
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