RAMADAN, or what we call in India Ramzan, starts from tomorrow. In India, as a kid I remember going to the Eid parties and my muslim friends and their families keeping fast. But it is only after coming to Kuwait I have learned about this holy month. I have understood the true meaning of the term "Ramadan".
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. During the blessed month of Ramadan, Muslims all over the world abstain from food, drink, and other physical needs during the daylight hours. As a time to purify the soul, refocus attention on God, and practice self-sacrifice, Ramadan is much more than just not eating and drinking. Muslims are called upon to use this month to re-evaluate their lives in light of Islamic guidance. Ramadan is a time when Muslims concentrate on their faith and spend less time on the concerns of their everyday lives. It is a time of worship and contemplation.
During the Fast of Ramadan strict restraints are placed on the daily lives of Muslims. They are not allowed to eat or drink during the daylight hours. Smoking and sexual relations are also forbidden during fasting. During Ramadan, every part of the body must be restrained. The tongue must be restrained from backbiting and gossip. The eyes must restrain themselves from looking at unlawful things. The hand must not touch or take anything that does not belong to it. The ears must refrain from listening to idle talk or obscene words. The feet must refrain from going to sinful places. In such a way, every part of the body observes the fast. Therefore, fasting is not merely physical, but is rather the total commitment of the person's body and soul to the spirit of the fast. Ramadan is a time to practice self-restraint; a time to cleanse the body and soul from impurities and re-focus one's self on the worship of God.
At the end of the day the fast is broken with prayer and a meal called the iftar. In the evening following the iftar it is customary for Muslims to go out visiting family and friends. The fast is resumed the next morning.
During Ramadan, it is common for Muslims to go to the Masjid (Mosque) and spend several hours praying and studying the Quran. In addition to the five daily prayers, during Ramadan Muslims recite a special prayer called the Taraweeh prayer (Night Prayer). The length of this prayer is usually 2-3 times as long as the daily prayers. Some Muslims spend the entire night in prayer. On the evening of the either the 21st, 23rd, 25th, 27th or 29th day* of the month, Muslims celebrate the Laylat-al-Qadr (the Night of Power). It is believed that on this night Muhammad first received the revelation of the Holy Quran. And according to the Quran, this is when God determines the course of the world for the following year.
When the fast ends (the first day of the month of Shawwal) it is celebrated for three days in a holiday called Id-al-Fitr (the Feast of Fast Breaking). Gifts are exchanged. Friends and family gather to pray in congregation and for large meals. In some cities fairs are held to celebrate the end of the Fast of Ramadan.
All Muslims over the age of puberty must observe Ramadan. Those who are exempted include the very young, the sick and the elderly who are too weak. Women in their menses or in labor or after childbirth are given temporary exemptions.
There are many things to learn during the holy month. Muslims learn what it means to be hungry in order to be compassionate for the poor; learn how close we are to leaving this world at any moment and how much humans depend on food and liquids; learn to control so-called animal urges and passions, and clear the minds and thoughts for serious remembrance of God.