The Islamic calendar is based on the lunar cycle. Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. It starts and ends with the sighting of the new moon. Also sometimes spelt as Ramazan, Ramzan or Ramadhan, it is observed as a month of fasting and abstinence. Here is a succinct overview of the importance of Ramadan and how it is observed in the UK today.
Ramadan is observed each year to commemorate the revelation of the Quran, Islam’s holy book, to Prophet Muhammad as per Islamic beliefs. Ramadan is a month of prayer, fasting, reflection and reading of the Quran. According to Islamic scripture faithfully observing Ramadan is rewarded by forgiveness for past sins.
Ramadan is not only about abstaining from food. During this holy month all adult Muslims who are not ill or traveling must also abstain from all other forms of bodily consumption including water, smoking, sex, etc. All kinds of immoral behavior such as cursing, quarreling, lying, insulting or having impure thoughts are equally prohibited. The fasting period is from dawn to dusk each day, and lasts 29 or 30 days depending on the calendar. Pregnant and nursing women and the elderly are exempt from the fasting.
Relevance in the present day
Nowadays devout Muslims in the UK have many rationales for fasting during Ramadan. Some claim that abstinence helps them regain self control and introspect. These are important aspects of life which are declining, owing to our wasteful lifestyles. For some Ramadan is an opportunity to pause and reflect upon the kind of life one is living, particularly in terms of recognizing our excesses. For some it is about reengaging with our deeper spiritual selves while for others it is an opportunity to relate to those who are less fortunate and sometimes have to go without food not out of choice. Some consider Ramadan an opportunity for physical and spiritual detoxification. Purifying the body and soul with abstinence and prayer is meant to promote god-consciousness, piety, and a positive credit of good deeds which would add-up and be recounted favorably on the day of reckoning. Keeping oneself willfully hungry, thirsty and in a situation of discomfort for a prolonged time is for some a method of rediscovering their fortitude and inner energy reserves.
At the end of each day of Ramadan there is a communal sunset prayer followed by breaking the day’s fast with a meal called Iftar. It is customary to begin Iftar with dates and to share the meal with the extended family and friends. To come out of fasting at sunset and mingle with a multitude of others who have undergone the same experience throughout the long day promotes a communal spirit like few other things can. Many non Muslims in the UK also fast during Ramadan as a display of solidarity.
The holy month of Ramadan ends with a joyous celebration known as the Eid al-Fitr, which translates to “feast of fast-breaking”. Eid al-Fitr is a three day celebration which starts with physical and spiritual ablution and prayers, followed by getting dressed in festive new clothes for the feasting. During this celebration Muslims exchange gifts, particularly sweet and baked snacks. They gather together in mosques or public halls for communal meals and prayers. Children have much to look forward to during Eid al-Fitr festivities, including new clothes, gifts and many edible goodies.
This year Ramadan began on the evening of 5th May and will end on 4th June. Eid al-Fitr will start with the first sighting of the new moon on the evening of 4th June. Your local mosque can give the exact times.
One of the most anticipated aspects of Eid al-Fitr is receiving gifts, and one of the most practical gifts you can give to your loved ones is money. As an Indian expat living in the UK, send money to India this Ramadan and make the most of this auspicious occasion.