I thought I'd write a bit about this month and its importance.
Ramadan is the holiest month of the Islamic lunar calendar. It is the month in which Allah revealed the first verse of the Holy Quran to the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him (pbuh) (on Laylat al-Qadr or the "Night of Power").
Fasting is the 3rd pillar of Islam and the Quran says:
"O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you so that you can learn Taqwa" (Quran 2:183)The Arabic word Taqwa is translated in many ways including God consciousness, God fearing, piety and self restraining. Thus we are asked to fast daily for one month from dawn to dusk and avoid food, water, sex and vulgar talk during that period.
Benefits of Fasting
Fasting is intended to help teach us self-discipline, self-restraint and generosity. It also reminds us of the suffering of the poor, who may rarely get to eat well. But most importantly, it brings us closer to Allah. We show Allah how much we love Him by giving up food - something which is essential for our survival. If I feel hungry, I can't just grab a chocolate bar because I know that Allah is watching my every action and non-action (thoughts). Therefore, it brings us closer to our Creator. During this month, we are supposed to remember Allah more; by reading the Quran and praying extended night prayers (Tarawih). It gives us a chance to ponder over the meaning of life and that we are in this world only to please Allah.
It has been proved that fasting also has various medical benefits in that it helps lower blood sugar, cholesterol and blood pressure. There are psychological effects of fasting as well. There is a peace and tranquility for those who fast during the month of Ramadan. Personal hostility is at a minimum and the crime rate decreases.
What do I do during Ramadan?
I wake up before Fajr (dawn), say around 4.30am and have my Sehri, which is a light meal taken in the mornings. This is Sunnah (an action of the Prophet) and I normally have a bowl of cereal and toast/paratha. Even if you aren't hungry, its still good to eat something e.g. dates.
After Sehri, you have to make your Niyyah (intention for fasting) which is simply:
"I intend to keep tomorrow's fast of Ramadan"
Now you are officially fasting and so have to abstain from eating, drinking, smoking, sex and other bad vices such as backbiting, lying, quarrelling and fighting till Maghrib (sunset). I then say my Fajr prayers and go to sleep for a bit, before waking up for work.
Work is pretty much a normal day. The only difference being that I try to think about my actions and Allah a lot more. I abstain from anything that will break my fast such as swearing, backbiting and vulgar thoughts. I always find that fasting at work is a lot easier because when you're busy doing something you don't tend to think about food much!
I have also downloaded a copy of the Quran onto my iPod and listen to it on my way to work or when I'm coming back home. I scoured the internet for one with an english translation to accompany the Arabic but couldn't find one. If you have any ideas, please let me know!
Maghrib (sunset) is the time when we break our fast. This is around 6.45pm these days, which means the fast lasts for about 14 hours. We first say a short prayer which goes like this:
"O Allah, I have fasted for You, believed in You, relied on You and have broken my fast with Your provision, so accept it from me."
We then have our Iftar, which is a small meal to break the fast. It is Sunnah to start eating with a date. I have my Iftar at work or on the bus during weekdays with a sandwich or crisps but on weekends it is at home and my Mum usually makes pakoras, samosas, fruit mix etc. This is definitely my favourite part of the fast! It feels amazing putting that first morsel of food into your mouth - both physically and spiritually. It makes you happy because you've been doing good deeds and thinking about Allah throughout the day and your fast culminates with the Iftar.
After Iftar, it is time for Maghrib prayers and then Isha prayers. In this month, we also have additional night prayers called Tarawih from 9pm to 10.30pm every day. During Tarawih, the Imam recites the Quran and aims to finish the entire Quran by the 27th day of Ramadan. I try to go to the mosque and pray behind the Imam. It is hard work, praying for nearly 2 hours but once again, the feeling I get when I'm walking back home from the mosque is amazing.
At the end of the month, it is Eid - a day of celebration!