The Meaning of Ramadan
by Shawaz Ghulam Yasin
Ramadan is the holy month when Muslims fast and try to perform thawab (good deeds rewarded by Allah). The person fasting is not supposed to eat before iftar (breaking the fast with dates), or lie, speak wrong about anyone behind their backs or do anything that is morally incorrect.
Any wrongdoing will break the fast, which is a big sin. Among Muslims each person can see the difference in his personality as the days pass in the month of Ramadan. The day starts with sohur when Muslims may eat before they start fasting for the day. The time limit for sohur is only until 5 AM, that is, some ten minutes before the morning azan or call to prayer. To do sohur is a sunnat of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). After sohur Muslims wait for the azan and as soon as the azan is called they go for the morning prayers in the mosque.
The experience is very distinctive. A person may see other men coming as brothers, irrespective of color, status or anything else, shoulder to shoulder for namaz (prayer). There is a feeling of peace within the soul. As the imam leading the namaz performs sajda (prostration) and recites the prayers, other do the same behind him.
A unique sense of mental peace is experienced, something that takes a man away from this world for some moments, when he feels God's presence with him. Then the prayer goes on and ends. After prayer there is Islamic teaching for the people in the mosque. Finally all give salaams to the beloved prophet Muhammad (p.b.u.h.) by reciting a Nath Sharif (a religious song in love of the holy prophet). All the men then pray together and disperse. In India Muslim women normally pray in their homes.
The day begins with prayer and there is a very distinguished kind of confidence instilled in the hearts of Muslims who perform prayers and are fasting. There is a consciousness that "Allah is watching me and all my deeds, and I need to be a good Muslim." In the day hours the challenge is to control your hunger and thirst, give zakat (charity to the poor), pray at all the prescribed times, and do nothing wrong. One goes to work as usual, but in Ramadan every Muslim should avoid speaking badly about their bosses, or becoming responsible for any kind of non-performance on the job. That would result in deliberately creating a loss for your manager or the enterprise employing you, which is a sin. As a result the fast would break.
Through each entire day of Ramadan, every Muslim should try to find an opportunity where he can do something good for others. If he or she could stop a fight between two people it is a great thawab. Doing your work in the right spirit is also a thawab. The more thawab a person earns in his lifetime the better it is for him, but in the month of Ramadan the thawab given to a Muslim for his good deeds is doubled.
In India, Ramadan is a very special month. Muslims, Hindus, Christians and even some Jews and Buddhists all live together. Most of the non-Muslims in India are familiar with Ramadan and the practices Muslims follow in the fasting month. Some of my Hindu friends who are very dear to me also fast just for the experience. India is a very good place to celebrate Ramadan. Muslims invite the non-Muslims for iftar, which is a happy time. Just before iftar all sit together and pray to Allah to forgive them if they have committed any sin during their fast.
Then, as soon as the maghrib (evening) azan is given the fast is broken by eating a date, after which a person can eat anything. Iftar normally lasts about 10 to 15 minutes. Sponsoring iftar is a great thawab, but only some have the financial resources to sponsor iftars. In India, where there are many poor Muslims, mosques are full during the time of iftar. Prayers are said before iftar also for the sponsors of the iftar. In India, most of the Muslim men go to the mosques to break their fasts. That is a reflection of the local culture. It is done to earn thawab and also to see that the sponsor of the iftar gets more thawab. If old men arrive to iftar, perhaps at the last minute of maghrib prayers, then they are given a seat to eat. Even after a whole day of hunger Muslins do not think of having the iftar without sharing food. After iftar, people go for maghrib prayers, and some young men voluntarily come forward and wash all the plates, clean up all the waste and then go back to their homes.
After an interval, all come for the final isha namaz (night prayers). In Ramadan, after isha prayers there are also additional tarawih prayers. All pray together and then recount some aspects of Islam outside the mosque. Then they return to their homes. In the night most of the people spend time with their families, some read the holy Qur'an, others pray additional nafil prayers. The day ends with prayers on the lips. A satisfaction in the heart is felt. A satisfaction and a hope that "today I tried to be a good Muslim. If I live tomorrow I shall continue to be a better Muslim."