The Meaning of Ramadan to Muslims
By Ali Alarabi — The month of Ramadan, which started last week, is perhaps the most celebrated event in a Muslim calendar year. To think of the significance of Ramadan and what it means to hundreds of millions of Muslims across the globe, American Christians might think of the significance of Thanksgiving and the Christmas holidays combined, and then extended for thirty days. Then add another 5-day holiday immediately afterwards to celebrate the “breaking of the fast.” Combining its religious and social cultural significance, Ramadan for Muslims, is an everyday Thanksgiving and an everyday Christmas, that lasts thirty days.
Ramadan, however, first and foremost, is a religious month. Muslims believe that God (in Arabic, Allah) revealed the Quran to the Prophet Mohammad during this month. To recognize this event, it is marked by abstaining from all food and drink from sunrise until sunset accompanied by devoted worship and reciting the Quran.
Though the religious principle of fasting is found in all major religions, in Islam, however, it is for an extended period of time. Muslims are actually required to do more than just abstain from food and drink, or at least that’s the way it is supposed to be for all Muslims. But, of course, some people, like me for example, think of nothing else but food all day, just as many Christians might only think of food at Thanksgiving, rather than the historical significance of the holiday, or only on presents at Christmas time.
My Ramadan days normally consists of imagining how will I devour all kind of foods, and which deserts I will eat first. I am always looking at my watch, calculating when will I start eating!
A good Muslim, however, ought to take the month of Ramadan as an opportunity to purify his soul and body and devote an entire month to worship God and contemplate faith. Food deprivation, during the day, is supposed to make Muslims think of others who are less fortunate than they are, thus putting the rich on equal plane with the wretched. It is essential therefore that fasting should not just become about only food deprivation, but should rather be accompanied by deep commitment to faith, to moral Islamic goodness, and to the well being of the community.
Because Muslims are supposed to abstain from food and drink from sunrise until sunset, work activities become less, and people tend to work less during the day. I personally could hardly think of work while I am thinking of what am I going to eat in the evening.
One might argue that economic activities during day time might tend to slow down during this month, especially in the Islamic World. That’s true, but other economic activities associated with the Ramadan season seems to promote a boom in trade and business. People stock up on food items such as rice and meat during the day, for example, in order to prepare elaborate dinners at night after the fast is broken. Thinking of food all day, like me, they will tend to over eat.
This dynamic has shifted main economic activities and trade from daytime, were people are less energetic due to not eating or drinking, into the nighttime. Nightlife during Ramadan, therefore, becomes colorful and restaurants get decorated and filled with those who decided to break their fast by eating out.
So most of activities during Ramadan occur during the evening hours where it has evolved to become distinct culture for the whole month. As a result, Ramadan days and night have their own special foods, drinks, sweets, candy and even its own television shows.
In Egypt for example, Ramadan is observed in every aspect of life, Mosques are filled with praying and devote believers well into the night, Quran is recited extensively. At the same time, the city of Cairo takes a colorful approach and it becomes a beautiful panoramic city. Cairo’s streets are decorated with ribbons and colorful candle-lit-lanterns called “Fawanees” which are hung on the streets and around the houses to mark the special occasion. Other Egyptian cities might hang one big “Fanoos” (singular of Fawanees). For Egyptians, hanging Fawanees is a thousand years old Ramadan tradition that started during the rule of the Fatimied State which ruled Egypt more than ten centuries ago.
During Ramadan, Muslim families gather around for elaborate meals and specially prepared foods consisting of beef, lamp, rice, chicken and sweets, and sweetened drinks. This tradition, of course, fosters and strengthen familial ties, as families invite each other for dinner to break the fast, called “Iftar.” This togetherness, religiously encouraged, as a result, bring family members to become closer to each other as they share a meals every evening with each others or neighbors and other relatives.
The month of Ramadan also ushers in its own TV shows. Arab countries and TV production companies compete with each other to produce the best Ramadan shows vying for the most viewers for shows of drama, comedies and children shows.
After the fasting month is over, Muslims would celebrate the end of Ramadan and breaking the fast with a 5-day holiday called “Eid el-Fitr” which starts with “Salat el Eid,” which is the “Holiday Prayer.” Children put on their best clothes and receive gifts from adults. Families visit each other.
As for me, the end of Ramadan will mark starting a crash diet to shed some of the pounds I put during my thirty day long fasting!
(Ali Alarabi is an award winning columnist. Copyright Arab Writers Group, www.ArabWritersGroup.com.)
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"I write about three topics, the Middle East, politics and life in general. I often take my life experiences and offer them in an entertaining way to readers, and I take on the toughest topics like the Israel-Palestine conflict and don't pull any punches about what I feel is fair. But, my priority is always about writing the good story."
Hanania covered Chicago Politics and Chicago City Hall from 1976 through 1992. Hanania began writing in 1975 when he published The Middle Eastern Voice newspaper in Chicago (1975-1977). He later published “The National Arab American Times” newspaper which was distributed through 12,500 Middle East food stores in 48 American States (2004-2007).
Hanania writes weekly columns on Middle East and American Arab issues for the Arab News in Saudi Arabia at www.ArabNews.com, and at www.TheArabDailyNews.com, www.TheDailyHookah.com and at SuburbanChicagoland.com. He has also published weekly columns in the Jerusalem Post newspaper, YNetNews.com, Newsday Newspaper in New York, the Orlando Sentinel Newspapers, and the Arlington Heights Daily Herald.
Palestinian, American Arab and Christian, Hanania’s parents originate from Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
Hanania is the recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, he was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media. In 2009, Hanania received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. He is the recipient of the MT Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award. He was honored for his writing skills with two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild. In 1990, Hanania was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times editors for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.
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