Dr. Mike Ghouse
This article is 2669 words long and is complete and comprehensive. It is everything you always wanted to know about Ramadan. Ramadan is also known as Ramzan in South Asia and Hari Raya Pauso in Indonesia which has the largest Muslim population in the world. Indeed, about 50% of the world’s Muslims (800 million) live in South and Southeast Asia.
Whether you are an Atheist, Baha’i, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jain, Jewish, Native American, Pagan, Shinto, Sikh, Wicca, Zoroastrian, or from any other tradition, you may feel a sense of connection with the spirit of Ramadan as you read through it.
There is a cause or a causer (Brahma) who created the universe to come into existence, sustain (Vishnu) and recycle (Shiva) it, and the word for that causer is “God” in different languages (or faiths). There (she/ it) cannot be different causers for the same universe. No matter how and what name you call upon him –he is one.
The physical aspect of the human journey from the sperm and an egg through death is programmed precisely. The formula is the same for all humans, and there is no such thing as a Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Sikh, or other genes.
When the universe came into being; the two products were Matter and Life. The matter functions precisely as designed, like the Sun, Jupiter, Earth, or the Moon playing their part. On the other hand, humans’ interactions are not pre-programmed; they have complete freedom, guidance (religion), and intelligence to create their balance to live securely and in relative harmony.
“Festivals of the World” is an educational series since 1993. Given the current situation in India, even beautiful festivals like Ramnvami and Hanuman Jayanthi have become violent, a segment of Hindus don’t get that Ramnavmi is celebrated to honor Shri Ram, the Maryada Purshottam, and Hanuman, a symbol of loyalty and goodness. The source of conflicts between us emanates from the fact that we don’t know each other; whatever we have learned about the others is harmful myths. The solution? When we live in the same street, communities, cities, and the same nation as neighbors, we might as well learn about each other. The best way to build cohesive societies is for its members to participate in festivities and commemorations of each other or at least understand each other’s joys and sorrows. Thus began the series “Festivals of the World” in 1993. You will find the essence of almost every major festival on our sites.
If the following article makes sense to you and if you have one of your own festivals here, and you would like us to continue with the series, we request you to donate to our work. After all, each one of us wants to live with the least conflicts and more security. https://centerforpluralism.com/donate/
Rituals are a part of every Religion
You may note that identical spiritual wisdom emerges in different parts of the world simultaneously. The best example is how a mother figures out what to do with her crying baby in the jungles of Amazon or Hollywood; she knows the child is hungry and needs to be fed.
Rituals are a part of our everyday life – when we get up in the morning, go to the office, have dinner, wear clothes, and go to the gym or visit a place of worship, we follow certain rituals. They are the milestones of our accomplishments in our lives.
They say, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, and I would say faith is in the heart of the believer, and every religion is dear to its believer. Religion is like a mother who is dear to each one of us.
Religions were established to create cohesive societies where each one of the members of the community feels secure about their faith, race, ethnicity, culture, or other uniqueness. Religion is never the problem; it is the individual who doesn’t get his religion is the problem.
RAMADAN IN THE LIFE OF A MUSLIM
Ramadan is the 9th month of the Muslim calendar, and it begins with the Moon Sighting. Here comes the politics of Ramadan. One group insists that they have to see the Moon themselves, while the other accepts if someone else has seen it. In the United States, most Muslims go by Nasa’s calendar so they can plan the festivities. However, it is a joy to wait and watch for the pencil-thin Moon to appear in the sky. Parents place their kids on their shoulders, and kids get excited to watch that Moon from the top of their parent’s shoulders.
When one sees the Moon or hears an announcement, they dash to the marketplace to shop and celebrate. It was initially a South Asian tradition but has become universal. It is like shopping for Dussehra, Rosh Hashanah, Christmas, and other festivities.
Special Ramadan Prayers
Muslims observe diverse practices – Special Prayers called Taraweeh are prayed in the late evening, followed by nightly prayers called Isha. Taraweeh is usually performed in a congregation, generally a Mosque or a large hall. Most Muslims pray, 20 to 22 units of prayers; some pray fewer, and some don’t. They complete reciting 30 chapters of the Quran in 30 days (or 29).
The Night of the Power known as Laylat al Qadr
Laylat al Qadr is also known as Shab-e-Qadr and is considered one of the mighty nights during Ramadan. It was the night God first revealed the words of the Quran and concluded and completed it in the last ten days of Ramadan over 23 years.
Shia Muslims consider the 19th, 21st, or 23rd of Ramadan as the most critical nights, while the Sunnis and Ahmadiyya look up to the odd days in the third part of the month.
A TYPICAL DAY IN THE LIFE OF A MUSLIM (Times are approximate)
The entire family rises in the morning, and together they prepare the food for Sahri/ Suhoor – the meal before fasting.
My family had a routine; I would chop the onions, my sister would flatten the dough to make Rotis (flatbread), one brother would wash the dishes, and the others would sit around and talk. My mother would sit by the stove (Chula), and my father would make sure all the ingredients were available. It is a family affair and brings families closer. I am sure, it is nostalgic to most Muslims.
Food habits vary from region to region; we made Rotis (Flatbread) with Subzi and Keema (minced meat) and Rice with Daal (Lentil) or Goat Curry and capped it off with a good cup of tea or lassi.
The cut-off time to stop eating is about 30 minutes before sunrise or around 5 AM- depending from time zone to time zone.
It is time to pray! It is called “Fajr Prayer” the first of the 5 daily prayers. We pray together as a family or go to the mosque if it were near.
Sleep for a few hours (Ramadan only) and go to work. A few choose to study the Quran in a group called Halaqa. This is a month of reflection and connection with family members.
The prayer in the afternoon called “Zohar” is followed by the one in the late afternoon”Asr”. One can pray individually, but a congregational prayer is a good option. Remember, it is about bringing the communities together. The Shia Muslims usually combine two prayers and the Sunnis and Ahmadi do it one by one.
6:30 PM – IFTAAR
Iftar is breaking day-long fast.
Sunset – some follow the times prescribed for the evening, and some keep looking at the sky (if it is a clear sky) to see the sunset. I like this ritual, life does not have to be functional or mechanical, it has to be a joy.
A prayer call (Azan) goes out at sunset; while the Sunnis and Ahmadi Muslims take the first bite of the date fruit and sip some water, the Shias will wait until after the prayer.
Since the observers have not had anything to drink or eat for the whole day, they will start with fruits and light snacks and let the stomach get ready for the entire meal after the evening (Maghrib-4th of the 5) prayers. It is a thoughtful process.
Did I tell you Muslims abstain from everything from water, food, ill-talk, ill-thought and ill-conversation, and every temptation that comes their way? Of course, I did. Fasting is a learning process to bring self-discipline. It is suitable for all, particularly for procrastinators, smokers, alcoholics, or any addictions or unpleasant habits.
Muslims invite their non-Muslim friends to join them for the Iftar parties. The parties are community-building events. An entire range of foods is available to eat. Indian Muslims offer vegetarian and non-veg foods (Hindu and Jain) to honor their guests. Originally, the Iftar was to help the poor people join the community and be a part of it, but like all other religions, it is for friends, politicians, and community members, you’ll find very few poor people. I wish it changes, they deserve to eat a good meal.
In a given Mosque, you will find Muslims from at least 20 to 30 countries, and as such, the variety of dishes increases by number. Biryani (Vegetarian for Hindu and Jain friends, Goat Biryani for all others) Brityani is the King of South Asian cuisine, and Naan, Keema, Korma, Rooh Afza, Sweet Lassi, Mango Lassi, and Gulab Jamun are on the plates. One universal item consumed worldwide is the dessert made out of vermicelli; the South Asians call it Seviyaan, and the Shir Khurma is very popular it has chipped Almonds, Raisins, crushed cashew nuts, and other dry fruits. I love to drink in a teacup. If you have not tried it, try it once.
Politicians and corporations also organize the Iftar parties. The tradition was started by President Bill Clinton and carried through President Obama, and we hope Biden will re-start it. There is no religious tone to it, it is purely a social and community affair.
LAST DAY OF RAMADAN
On the evening of the 28th or 29th day of Ramadan, everyone is out looking for that Pencil thin Moon again; once an announcement comes out, celebrations begin. Chand Raat (Moon Night) opens up, and people go shopping; it is like shopping on the last day of Christmas, Rosh Hashanah, Diwali, or other festivities. It is a good tradition of excitement and joy for successfully observing the entire month of Ramadan dutifully.
Children and adults paint Mehendi (henna) on their hands with various designs. They look forward to it. Typically, new clothes are worn on Eid (pronounced Eed – like an eel with a D) as our Hindu friends wear on Diwali.
Every Muslim takes out 2.5% of his/her wealth and passes it on to the needy. Most people pay in advance, but as usual, some pay on the last day, like we file our IRS tax returns on April 15th. Zakat is one of the five obligatory duties of a Muslim..
Eid- the big celebration
Everyone in the family gets up in the morning, and it is the dawn of a new era. Eat breakfast and go for the mass or congregational prayers, also known as Jamaat. Since a Mosque cannot accommodate all the people in the area, they rent convention halls or big banquet halls.
Dallas, Texas is my hometown and the community rented the Convention Center, where some 20,000 people (some ten years ago) gathered for the congregational prayers. Yelahanka, my town, and perhaps in other places, they all go to the cemetery grounds, where they have a dedicated place made for Namaz (prayers). Generally, the Eid committee arranges the long mats to be spread on the floor, and some people carry their own personal prayer rugs.
It is the day to celebrate and includes forgiving each other and starting afresh by hugging three times. My interpretation of the three hugs is “forgive me,” “I forgive you,” and “Let us forgive each other” and begin the relationship afresh.
The Jains say “Michami Dukkadam,” meaning, let’s forgive each other and start the new year with a clean slate.
In the late ’70s, Amitabh Bachchan, Rajesh Khanna, Asrani, Mehmood, and other Bollywood actors participated in Eid prayers in Yelahanka, my town of birth, a suburb of Bangalore. Comedian Mehmood lived a mile or two from the grounds and brought those movie stars to the prayers in his tractor. The movie stars enjoyed the different ways one can worship the creator.
Praying for the deceased
It’s like Memorial Day, almost every Muslim visits the cemetery to pray for their loved one buried there. You will always find yourself connected to them. You can pray for them from anywhere, and on this day of joy, you feel their absence even more. Every time I have been to the cemetery, I pray for my parents, family members, and friends, and invariably I cry. I love the Muslim universal prayer, which seeks forgiveness for all humanity and is recited when you depart from the cemetery. It is a good feeling to reflect on life and death, it makes you a better human.
It is a gift you generally present to kids and family members as we do during Christmas, Diwali, and other holidays. Traditionally the head of the household, man or woman, presents the gifts to the family members; it is usually cash to spend. During my childhood, my father gave me one Anna (like 25 Paise), my friend and I dashed to the store behind our home and drank Orange Soda which was half Anna. That was the greatest pleasure we had.
It is usually an open house for families, friends, and community members to visit for lunch. A typical family visits at least three homes and of course the practices vary from Muslim to Muslim. Back in India, and I am sure in other nations, we walked from home to home, but in the US, we drive to at least three homes.
Fasting is exempt for individuals with diabetes and other difficulties, pregnant women, and even people traveling. If you miss it, you have the option to make it up.
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said that God has no need for the hunger or thirst of someone who hurts others, violates their dignity, or usurps their rights. The fasting of the limbs must match the fasting of the stomach. The eyes, ears, tongue, hands, and feet all have their respective fasts to undergo. For example, the tongue’s temptations — lies, backbiting, slander, vulgarity, and senseless argumentation — must be curbed to maintain the integrity of the fast.
The consciousness of behavior and vigilance over action are the most profound dimensions of fasting: the heart’s fasting focuses on the attachment to the divine. Ramadan becomes a source of peace and solace, just as Christmas, Rosh Hashana, or Dussehra go beyond the rituals to bring forth kindness, charity, and caring.
True fasting is self-purification. From this comes a rich inner life that brings about values such as justice, generosity, patience, kindness, forgiveness, mercy, and empathy — values that are indispensable for the community’s success.
Knowing about hunger is different from knowing it. Empathy is not an intellectual equation; it is a human experience. Our hardness of heart often springs from our distance from the human condition of others. The poor, sick, disenfranchised, oppressed — we rarely walk a mile in their shoes, not even a few steps. “Rest assured,” cautioned one teacher, “if you do not taste what it feels like to be hungry, you will not care for those who are.”
Ramadan will come and go with such stealth; what do we value, and why? We can change our habits and customs, including obsessive behavior, in the face of a higher calling.
Fasting imparts a sense of what it means to be truly human. Its observance reflects its universality in Baha’i, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jain, Jewish, Sikh, Zoroastrian, and other faiths. For fasting to be truly universal, its benefits must extend beyond the fraternal ties of Muslims and must extend to forging a common humanity with others.
Let the spirit of Ramadan develop an understanding and respect for each one of God’s creations – that is, all of humanity.
The most common greetings of the Ramadan festival are Ramadan Mubarak, Eid Mubarak, and Ramadan Kareem, and then there is variation depending on the language you speak.
Picture’s courtesy – Boston Globe and the Atlantic
Dr. Mike Ghouse is Social Scientist, Public Speaker, thinker, author, newsmaker, and an Interfaith Wedding Officiant. He is deeply committed to Pluralism in Religion, Politics, Societies, Human rights, and religious freedom. He is the founder and president of the Center for Pluralism, Director at the World Muslim Congress, a think tank, and a wedding officiant at Interfaith Marriages. His new book American Muslim Agenda is available on Amazon, and “Standing up for others” and “Madame President” are coming soon. He is committed to building cohesive societies and offers pluralistic solutions to issues of the day. His mission is to open people’s hearts and minds toward fellow humans. More about him at TheGhouseDiary.com
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