How is Ramadan celebrated, and what is its religious significance?
As we move into May, and creep ever closer to those daunting summer exams, Muslims in the UK and across the world are preparing for the most important month of the Islamic year.
The exact date on which Ramadan falls varies from year to year as its timing is based on the Lunar calendar, rather than the more familiar Solar calendar, but in 2019 the first day is set to be May 6th.
So for those of you with RS GCSEs coming up who want a little refresher, or if you would just like to know a little more about this Holy month, I've written up a very brief introduction below.
Historical Origins of Ramadan
Ramadan, the 9th month of the Islamic Calendar, celebrates the revelation of the Quran to Mohammed.
Much like the Jewish belief in God handing down the ten commandments to Moses on Mount Sinai, and the Christian belief in the revelation of the Gospels, the idea of Mohammed receiving the holy scripture directly from Allah is one of the key articles of faith in Islam: it marks the moment when the laws and beliefs of the religion were codified.
In fact, in a synthesis of all three Abrahamic religions, Muslims believe that The Torah, The Gospels and the Psalms were also revealed in this same month in different years, and so Ramadan has even greater significance as a time when spiritual truths are imparted.
In Chapter II, verse 185 of the Quran, it is stated:
The month of Ramadan is that in which was revealed the Quran; a guidance for mankind, and clear proofs of the guidance, and the criterion (of right and wrong).
Religious Observance and Practices during Ramadan
One of the best known religious practices during the month of Ramadan is that observant Muslims will fast during the hours of daylight. Between dawn and dusk they will neither eat, nor drink, nor smoke.
The idea is that fasting forces the devout to reflect on spiritual matters rather than material ones, and thus is beneficial to the soul. This might be compared to the Jewish custom of fasting on Yom Kippur, the day of atonement.
Naturally, Muslims are encouraged to be more devout in other ways too during the month, by giving to charity, praying more often, and practising restraint from sin. It's no good fasting to bring yourself closer to God if you are also lying and stealing!
There are a few important exemptions from fasting during Ramadan. Children before the age of puberty are not required to fast, neither are pregnant women, menstruating women, women who breastfeed, or anyone suffering from severe illness or disability. Some Muslims choose to fast even though they are exempt, as an act of devotion, although the Quran does not require this.
In addition to fasting, Muslims are encouraged to read (or if possible recite) the entirety of the Quran during Ramadan. Those of you who are familiar with The Authorised King James Bible, that hefty tome stretching well over 2,000 pages, might think this an impossible task. But the Quran is a comparatively short work of scripture, clocking in a little under 80,000 words, roughly the average length of a modern novel. Reading it cover to cover in a month is not so daunting. Reciting it, however, is a pretty astonishing feat of human memory!
Curious Facts about Ramadan
• Because the hours of daylight are different at any give time of year according to where you are in the world, there is a big discrepancy for how long Muslims actually fast for. In Scandinavian countries, for instance, Muslims have been known to observe their fast for over 20 hours a day, while their fellow believers abroad may be fasting for as little as 11 hours.
• In some countries, failing to fast during Ramadan is a punishable crime. In Kuwait, for instance, fast breakers can be fined, and in the United Arab Emirates they can be sentenced to community service.
• Alongside eating and drinking, sexual intercourse is also forbidden during fast days.
• Eid, the first day of the month that succeeds Ramadan, is declared after a sighting of a new crescent moon. If, due to weather conditions, the moon cannot be sighted, then Eid takes place 30 days after the beginning of Ramadan.
I hope that's been helpful reading for anyone with exams looming. And to those of you who are celebrating Ramadan this year, I wish you spiritual nourishment and good luck!
Blog Post Crafted by Toby
Toby is in charge of recruitment of new tutors. He conducts interviews with prospective tutors and assesses their lessons to get a feel for whether they have the teaching style we're looking for.