WHAT IS RAMADAN?
In the Islamic calendar, it is the 9th month, and it is a month that more than 1 billion Muslims celebrate every year. It is the month of fasting: a time where Muslims work at purifying their souls, refocusing their attentions on God. It is 1 of the 5 pillars of the Islamic faith. It includes the following:
- SAWM (the fasting)
- ZAKAT (the giving of money, alms, clothing, food to the needy, acts of generosity)
- TARAWEEH (Prayers additional time for praying is encouraged)
- QURAN (many try to read through the 30 chapters of the holy book in the 30 days of fasting, and many mosques will have Quranic recitations.
WHEN DOES IT START?
The actual date varies every year (about 11 days earlier every year) but this year (2012) it will be from around 19th July – 19th August. But the commencement is dependent on the sighting of the crescent moon, as it is based on a lunar calendar! Ramadan is declared by the religious leaders in the area: each country (and even city or town) will commence at slightly different times.
HOW LONG DOES IT LAST?
For 29 or 30 days (again, depending on the sighting of the moon).
WHAT DO PEOPLE DO?
Adults (having reached puberty) are obliged (obligatory) to fast during the daylight hours: from dawn to sunset. One must fast from:
- sexual intercourse
This is to teach patience, humility, discipline and sacrifice. But it is much more than just a matter of refraining from food and drink. Muslims are also encouraged to do away with bad habits: refrain from evil actions, thoughts and words. Being kind to others, helping those less fortunate and performing good deeds are very important during this period. It is a time of spiritual reflection and worship, putting more effort and emphasis on purity of thoughts and actions and re-directing one’s heart away from worldly activities.
Children love the Ramadan month: they stay awake all night, until dawn! They play with friends, in the streets, singing special Ramadan songs. They also love to help with the pre-dawn waking up sound: which is usually running through the streets banging on a pot to wake up everyone to have their pre-dawn breakfast!
SO WHEN IS IT TIME TO EAT?
The sunset call to prayer sees most Muslims eating 3 dates and a little water, then attending prayers. After this is the social, communal meal: which is shared with much joy and enthusiasm. This meal is called the Iftar, breaking of the fast. Families will share special foods and desserts that are only made and eaten during this time. In the villages, whole families will gather to share food together. There is a great sense of excitement, as many special cakes, biscuits and desserts are only made during this time of year. There are usually lanterns festooning the streets and colourful ribbons or cloth hung between apartments down thin alley ways and shop-owners usually hang colourful fabrics in their shops: all adding to the special atmosphere. Shops will stock up with a lot of Ramadan type food: lots of dates, icing sugar, raisins and nuts, coconut…. Yum!!
… AND THE QUIET:
This is usually the quietest that you will ever see the streets of Egypt: 90% of the population is in their homes eating together: the streets are deserted, trams virtually at a stand-still while the nation breaks the fast: a time of closeness, religious zeal and excitement.
SO HOW HARD IS IT?
Physically it is a very challenging time. Here, at the moment, the month of fasting is during summer: so going the whole day without water is deeply challenging! For those who work during Ramadan, the days seem terribly long! Many of the people who live in Egypt are used to copious cups of tea and coffee a day, as well as many cigarettes or shisha pipes! So in effect you have almost an entire country going “cold-turkey” off caffeine and nicotine: makes for a really difficult first week!
But Muslims love this month: they look forward to it all year and really feel a spiritual cleansing during this time. You will find that many more people attend the mosques during this time: and often entire blocks will be filled with praying people: streets come to a stand-still… it is an incredible sight.
If you are visiting the country during Ramadan, and you are not fasting, you will still find that shops, markets and restaurants will be open during most of the day. However, we would encourage you to be considerate of those who are fasting, and not drink on the streets or eat in an obvious way around those who are trying to be disciplined: out of consideration to them. Also, as always, we would encourage you to dress modestly and conservatively as this is a sign of respect to those who are trying to fast and be disciplined in all areas.
WHAT ABOUT GIFTS?
During this month acts of charity and giving is rewarded 70 times more than any other time of the year. So there is a lot of giving of gifts: to family, to one another and to the less fortunate. Most children will be given new clothes and shoes (especially for the final day of celebration) and food is given and shared with the poor and the hungry. Money is often given to children within the family… so this is a time that the children love!
HOW DOES IT END?
The last 10 days are considered the most important, which sees a heightened spiritual intensity. The 27th night is called the “Precious Night” (or the night of destiny/power), which is thought to be the time that the Quran was first revealed to the Prophet. These last days are days that are full of blessing, hearing and answering of prayers. Ramadan comes to an end when there is a moon sighting. It ends with a small feast and then on the first day of the new month, there is a celebration with a final meal, Eid Al Fitr. New clothes are worn, friends are visited, families gather, and special dishes are prepared one last time.
It is always with sadness that people end the month of Ramadan: the early pre-dawn meals, the challenges of daily fasting, the focus of spiritual cleaning and refocusing on God are a annual highlight for all Muslims…. and of course the children love the sense of community, the gifts, the money, the special meals….. and the poor and needy receive many gifts and blessings during this month: