Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Ramadan Isn't Lent, and More


Over a billion Muslims worldwide are currently observing the holy month of Ramadan. I read this fascinating and informative article that focuses on the similarities and differences between Ramadan and Lent.

During the 28 days of Ramadan, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. The fast begins at dawn when one can distinguish a white thread from a black one (Quran 2:188) and ends when the sun has set below the horizon. The fast is absolute n that nothing enters the body. Thus, fasting excludes not only eating food but also drinking fluids, smoking and sexual activity.

Since the month of Ramadan moves “backward” through the solar year, it occurs at some point in every season of the year in any given location. In the summer in both northern and southern latitudes, days can be quite long and the fast can go on for more than 15 hours. If 15 hours without food is difficult, 15 hours in the summer without water is even more so.


In many places in the Muslim world, the end of the day’s fast is announced by a cannon shot or some other major public announcement after the sun sets, informing people they may now engage in iftar, or the breaking of the fast. Muslims often first eat a date to break the fast, as did Muhammad. The nightly meals during Ramadan are often quite festive and families gather and enjoy specially prepared dishes.
The Quran excuses several groups of people from fasting: the ill, those on a journey and those for whom the fast would be a grave burden. Later schools of Islamic law expanded the group to include pregnant and nursing women, small children and the elderly. Those who break the fast for whatever reason are required to feed a needy person for each day of fast they miss and to make up the days of fast when they are again able.
On the surface, Ramadan resembles Christian Lent. It differs, however, in several fundamental ways.
Perhaps the most apparent difference is that after breaking the fast at nightfall, Muslims celebrate and often feast. During the first weeks of the month, there are especially festive dinners with the last dinner of the night being the suhur, which is to be eaten as close to dawn as possible. Losing weight is not generally connected with Ramadan in the Muslim mind.
More important, unlike Lent, Ramadan is not generally understood as an act of penance. Muslims rather consider Ramadan as an exercise in self–discipline, as purification and as a reminder of the believer’s dependence on the bounty of God.
As does fasting in Christianity, Judaism and Indic religions, the fast in Islam helps the believer focus on what is important. Fasting is closely connected to prayer and contemplation. It is the setting aside of the ordinary that allows the believer to focus on the transcendent.
One of the more striking aspects of Ramadan, particularly to Christians and Jews, is the joy with which Muslims anticipate and observe the month. Whereas Lent is a time of quiet, penitential reflection for Christians and Yom Kippur (or the Day of Atonement) is a solemn day for Jews, Ramadan is a time of spiritual and physical refreshment for Muslims. It is a time to put aside the burdens and cares of everyday life and to focus on what really matters. Whereas Christians created Fat Tuesday as the last celebration before Lent, Muslims see no need to “get it all in” before Ramadan. Ramadan is a celebration.
 Read the whole thing here. H/T: The Deacon's Bench


Arif said...

My friend there is nothing joyful about fasting (not drinking and eating) for 12+ hours during Ramadan. It is truly a spiritual and physical refreshment (I would rather use the term refinement) in the sense that you are taking your mind off from craving/physical needs to a more spiritual level (tormenting one's worldly feelings), being more benevolent and understanding to poor, being modest, and being more serious about prayer.

There actually not much time to "celebrate" ramadan days in true sense as it is a month where people are supposed to focus on "quiet, penitential reflection", and "atonement" (through prayers, this month actually has extra prayers on the schedule!), understanding the pain of those who do not have food, and planning to share some wealth with poor. The scripture says that this month is " the most favorite month of God", and "the month when the scripture was revealed completely as a guide to all". Scripture also says if people are sincerely atoning, God forgives their sin the most during this month. Thus the celebration is after the successful completion of the month. As, the successful completion may mean, a renewal of life's slate (the anticipation of being forgiven).

Each successful completion of a day could be seen as a success, and at the end of the month, it is recommended/allowed that people "celebrate" by beginning the day with a prayer, then eating good food, dressing up nice and enjoy family and friends.

In reality, this month is the most complicated month as supposedly there are more "spiritual responsibility" than in any other month of the year. However, I do understand and see that in practice, muslims do enojoy the days of ramadan as they often eat rich and good food (to break their fast), and have friends and family over, and tend to plan what they will buy for the "Eid" (Celebration) and forget the other focuses of the month.

By the way, the word "siam" (which is used for every day of ramadan) means "self-restraint" so, the scripture says "no feast, no celebration, no extravaganza" in any day of ramadan. The whole point of the suhor is to make keep body healthy and fasting the next day easier.

I can agree with your statement that the whole month is "made" celebration by practice (by many muslims, not all), however I just wanted to confirm that you are not taking the "actual sense/spirit" of the month out of its context and misunderstand it.

I personally find that the "spiritual principle" of the month has no difference with "Yum Kippur" (in fact, it is said that Yum Kippur was the reference point before ramadan was made mandetory) or lent or other fasting activities in other religion such as hinduism or Buddhism (As far as I know, Buddist also fast for spiritual cleansing). The only difference is in the description how it should be performed (not how people do it as you often see them) as described in various religions.

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