By Micah Halpern
Monday August 22,2011
We are now in the Muslim month of Ramadan. But what is Ramadan? Let's clear up some misconceptions.
Ramadan is the 9th month of the Muslim calendar. Every day, throughout this month called Ramadan, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset and break their fasts only at night. The fast is referred to as sawm, the breaking of the fast is called iftar in Arabic.
Ramadan is a month dedicated to introspection and repentance. According to Islamic lore it is thought to be an extremely auspicious month, a month during which through prayer and fasting, believing Muslims are moved even closer to Allah, God.
Conceptually, Allah is the same as the monotheistic God of Judaism
In Islamic tradition great events took place during the 9th month of Ramadan. It is understood that the Koran was given to the Prophet Muhammad during the month of Ramadan. And during Ramadan the first major battle against the pagan tribes of Badr, a battle that highlighted the powers of Muhammad as a great leader and military thinker, took place in the area around Mecca. And it is at the close of one of the odd-numbered days of the last ten days of the month, a time called Laiylatu Qadr, the Night of Power, during which Allah evaluates the deeds of each person and seals their destiny.
The month-long fast concludes with a three-day holiday called Id el Fitr which is best translated as the Festival of the Breakfast Feast. This is the centerpiece of the Muslim calendar. It is believed that celebrating the Id with music and dance will bring families together and so families erect tents and sit and visit and entertain and gifts are presented to Muslim children. Many Muslims remember the breaking of the fast of Ramadan on the three day festival of Id el Fitr as the most memorable part of their childhood.
In Arabic, the word zakat means purity and growth. Zakat is the charity given by Muslims, it is what is called alms in the Christian world and zedaka in the Jewish world. It is important that every Muslim participate in the act of zakat and there is a special calculation made to determine how much each family or individual should give. It turns out to be 2.5 percent of your wealth and for farmers it is 5%-10% of the annual harvest. Ramadan is a particularly important time to give zakat and the charity given during Ramadan is understood to be 70 times as powerful and as important as the same zakat given at any other time of the year.
There is no doubt that Ramadan, like so much else in Islam and like many things in Christianity, emerged out of Jewish tradition. In fact, Muhammad made an appeal to the Jewish tribes living around the cities of Yatrib and Mecca to join his newly-created movement called Islam. They rejected his approach.
Muhammad then modified or changed several components of Islam that he borrowed from Israel. He, quite literally, turned his back on Jerusalem and chose to pray to Mecca. The Jews pray toward Jerusalem, the Muslims pray to Mecca. He upped the ante and instituted prayer five daily times instead of the original three times a day Jewish prayers are offered. And he transformed a single day of introspection, repentance and prayer into a full month. He turned the day of Yom Kippur into the month of Ramadan.
Like the rest of the Muslim calendar and unlike the Gregorian calendar, Ramadan floats. The Muslim calendar is a lunar calendar with months that are either 29 or 30 days long. The Gregorian calendar is linked to the sun and is called a solar calendar.
Ramadan moves around, it falls back in time and in a course of 34 years Islam will have lost an entire year. According to their calendar, Muslims age slower than non-Muslims so when a non-Muslim reaches the age of 68, a Muslim will be only 66 years old.
Actually, even today the Islamic calendar is not standardized within itself. Muslims will start Ramadan and celebrate Id el Fitr on different dates depending on where they live and who determines the dates.
Despite the fact that some followers of Islam believe that if a Muslim dies on Ramadan while defending Islam in Jihad, that person will be rewarded with an even more special place in heaven, Ramadan is not is a time to fight. Ramadan is a time to pray and a time to evaluate. It is a time for peaceful introspection.
Ramadan is a lot of things. It is certainly a very special time of year for Muslims.
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