- What is Ramadan?
- What is Tarawih or Qiyam Prayer?
- Ramadan and Charity
- What is the Pre-Dawn Meal (Suhur)?
- What Should be My Plan in Ramadan?
What is Ramadan?
Ramadan is the 9th month of the Islamic calendar and the month in which the Qur'an was revealed. Ramadan is the month of worship, the month of helping the needy through charity and the month of compulsory fasting. Fasting Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam and became obligatory on Muslims during the 2nd year after the hijrah (migration of the Prophet from Makkah to Madinah). Therefore, the Prophet fasted nine of these months in his lifetime. The command to fast was revealed in the month of Sha'ban (the month immediately preceding Ramadan).
Sighting of the Moon
It is a collective duty on the Muslims to make an effort to sight the moon of Ramadan on the 28th of Sha'ban. Muslims should depend on sighting the moon based on the naked-eye or astronomic calculation. The Prophet, sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam, himself instructed:
"Begin the fast on the sighting of the moon and break the fast likewise, but if the sky is cloudy (on the 29th of Sha'ban), then complete 30 days of Sha'ban."
Muslim scholars and scholars of astronomy agreed that astronomic calculation is a science that is based on observation of the position of the sun and the moon; a scientific basis, not on tanjim (astrology). Muslim scholars also agree that sighting the moon with the naked-eye is the fundamental basic criteria and there is no need for astronomic calculation if the moon is seen clearly. If sighting with the naked-eye is not certain or in conflict with calculation then decision by means of sighting solely with the naked-eye will not be acceptable and calculation should be taken into consideration.
What is the Definition of Fasting?
The literal meaning of fasting (sawm) is to restrain oneself from something. The technical meaning is to abstain from all those things that are forbidden during the time of fasting which is from the break of dawn to the sunset and to do this with the intention of fasting. Fasting in Islam involves abstaining from all bodily pleasures between dawn and sunset. It also includes abstaining from doing bad deeds, evil actions and bad manners.
Fasting is not unique to Muslims. It has been practiced for centuries by Christians, Jews, Confucianists, Hindus, Taoists, and Jains. God states this fact in the Qur'an:
"O you who believe, fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may develop God-consciousness."
Why do Muslims Fast?
Fasting in Ramadan aims to achieve:
- Piety and righteousness
- Renewal of a devotional life
- Renewal of contact with the Qur'an
- Renewal of identity with the Ummah
- A renewed sense of care and sympathy
- Striving, challenge, and struggle
- Abstaining from the halal in order to make it easier to abstain from haram after Ramadan.
What are the Virtues of Ramadan?
- Fasting helps Muslims develop self-control, gain a better understanding of God’s gifts and attain a greater compassion towards the deprived
- This blessed month is a great occasion for goodness, blessing, worship and obedience of God
- It is a month in which rewards for good deeds are multiplied
- It is a great opportunity for one to do deeds that could bring him/her closer to Paradise
- It provides protection from evil for those who sincerely fast
- God gives a special reward for the one who fasts faithfully
- Perhaps the greatest and most unique merit of Ramadan lies in the fact that the Qur'an was revealed during this month
- When the month of Ramadan starts, the gates of Paradise are opened, the gates of Hell are closed and the devils are chained up
- It is a means for atonement of sins. It is a shield because it safeguards the believer from vain talk and wrong doing and thereby protects him from the Hell
- Fasting intercedes with God on behalf the believer on the Day of Judgment.
Fasting is so highly regarded for a believer that he would have two occasions of joy:
- One at the time of breaking his fast - to enjoy the bounties of God, because he has been favoured with God's mercy to observe fasting while many others have been deprived of this great blessing
- The second would be when he meets his Lord - and enjoys the abundant reward for having observed fasting
How Muslims Should Prepare for Ramadan?
- We should prepare for Ramadan by recognising our shortcomings and our duties
- We should set ourselves straight so that in Ramadan we will have a higher degree of faith; for faith increases and decreases. Faith increases through obedience to God and faith decreases through disobedience and sin
- We should welcome Ramadan by asking for forgiveness and making sincere repentance
Everyone should prepare for Ramadan by learning the rules and etiquette of Ramadan:
- Learning the meaning and purpose of fasting
- understanding who must fast, who must not and who is allowed to break the fast
The intention for fasting is imperative. If a person stays away from all those things that break one's fast but without niyyah, the fast will not be valid. It is not necessary to express the niyyah verbally, as niyyah means to intend. Thus, making intention in the heart will suffice. However, it is better to express the niyyah verbally, also. The intention can be made every night with suhur (the meal shortly before the start of the time of fasting) and it can be done once for the whole month. All are permissible.
What are the Levels of Fasting?
Fasting is of three levels:
- Fasting of common people (sawm al-'awam): this refers to what the common people do i.e. abstaining from food, drink and sexual desire. Fasting in this way allows you to fulfil your obligation but this category of fasting does not earn the blessings and benefit of Ramadan.
- Fasting of the special (sawm khawas): this involves fasting of the organs from committing sins. Therefore, your eye fasts from looking at anything forbidden, your hands fast from touching anything forbidden [such as stealing, hitting, harming] and your tongue fasts from uttering bad words [such as lying, backbiting], etc.
- Very special fasting (sawm khawas al-khawas): this involves fasting from everything apart from God. It is as if you are on hold for God in this month. You might be at work, but your heart is with God. You might be cooking, but your heart and thoughts are with God. We should all try to attain this level, at least some of the days of Ramadan, if not all.
What is the Proper Way of Good Fasting?
The best way to fast is to do it according to the Sunnah. Fasting according to the Sunnah means to do the following, in addition to that which is obligatory in order for the fast to be valid:
- Abstaining from eating, drinking, intimacy and to have the intention for fasting.
- It is not permissible to follow the timetable of another country such as Makkah or others to break your fasting with the excuse that it is a long day. This can only be done in countries where sometimes it is always daytime or always night. In countries where there is daytime and night like Britain, you cannot follow another country's time. However, if you are unable to fast the whole day because of an extreme difficulty that it will cause, then you can break your fasting and make it up later. In the Qur'an it says: "God does not burden a person more than he can bear." [2:286].
According to the International Islamic Academy of Fiqh, during fasting, the following things are permissible and would not break your fast:
- Unintentionally eating, drinking or smoking
- Unintentional vomiting
- Swallowing things which are not possible to avoid, such as; one's saliva, street dust, smoke etc.
- Injection or intravenous which is solely medical and not nutritional
- Taking a bath or shower. If water is swallowed involuntarily it will not invalidate the fast.
- Using perfumes, wearing contact lenses or using eye drops
- Taking injections or having a blood test
- Using a tooth stick or using a toothbrush (with tooth paste) and rinsing the mouth and nostrils with water
- General medical examinations which do not give energy or food
- If one sleeps during the day and has a wet dream it does not break one's fast
- If one has intercourse during the night and was not able to make ghusl (bathe) before dawn, he/she can begin the fast and make ghusl later
- Kissing between husband and wife is permissible during the fast if they can both control themselves
- The person who has diabetes has the choice to fast if he/she is able or to break the fasting if he has to take medicine during the day. It depends on the level of diabetes. He/she should consult the doctor.
What is Tarawih or Qiyam Prayer?
This prayer is special characteristic of the month of Ramadan. It is performed after 'Isha' prayer and consists of between eight and twenty raka'at performed two by two with short break between each two raka'at. Tarawih is Sunnah for both men and women. The Prophet, sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam, encouraged people to perform these special prayers during Ramadan without making them obligatory and he said:
"Whoever prays during the nights of Ramadan with a firm belief and hoping for reward, all of his previous sins will be forgiven."
"The Prophet, sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam, performed tarawih in the mosque and many people prayed with him. The next day he did the same and more people prayed with him. Then people gathered on the third night but he did not come out to them. In the morning, he said to them: 'Surely I saw what you did, and nothing prevented me from coming out to you, save that I feared that [that prayer] would be made obligatory upon you.' And that was during Ramadan."
'A'ishah also narrated that the Prophet would not pray more than eleven raka'at during Ramadan or at any other time. Jabir said:
"The Prophet prayed eight raka'at and the witr prayer with the Companions. Then, the next day, the people waited for him but he did not come out to them. This is the sunnah that has been related from the Messenger of God and nothing besides that is authentic."
It is also true, however, that during the time of 'Umar, 'Uthman, and 'Ali the people prayed twenty raka'at, and this is the opinion of the majority of the jurists of the Hanafi, Shafi'i, and Hanbali schools.
The Recitation of the Qur'an in Tarawih
There is no particular sunnah regarding recitation during tarawih. The Imam may recite whatever verses he chooses. It should be remembered that neither praying twenty raka'at nor reciting the whole Qur'an during tarawih are compulsory. However, it is better to complete the whole Qur'an once during the course of tarawih as long as that does not cause hardship to people. This may be understood from ahadith which state that Jibril used to go through the whole Qur'an with the Prophet in Ramadan and review it with him.
The recitation should be done at moderate speed and those following should listen to it attentively. If the tarawih prayer has to be completed in a specific time, then a reduced amount should be recited so that a better quality of worship is achieved. The purpose is to achieve submission (khushu') in the prayer, to contemplate the meaning of the Qur’an, and to learn lessons from it, not to finish the Qur'an.
Is Tarawih a Congregational or Individual Prayer?
It is allowed to pray tarawih in a congregation and it is also allowed to pray it on an individual basis, in the mosque or at home, but the majority of the scholars prefer it to be prayed in congregation. The Prophet, as stated earlier, prayed tarawih in congregation with the Muslims but then discontinued because he feared that it would be made obligatory. 'Umar was the one who gathered the Muslims to pray tarawih behind one Imam.
Tarawih for Women
Women should have the choice of praying at home or at the mosque, where they may find strength and support in being with their sisters and brothers in worshipping God. Imam Ash-Shafi'i was of the opinion that praying in the mosque or at home is equal in reward for both men and women. Women cannot be prevented from going to pray tarawih in the mosque. Nor should they be prevented from attending lessons, lectures, seminars, conferences, general prayers, or from reciting the Qur'an. This is what the Prophet Muhammad, sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam, taught us when he said to the men:
"Do not prevent women from going to the houses of God [i.e. the Mosque]."
As for the statement of the Prophet addressing women, "Your prayer at home is good", it is based on the desire for women to be protected. So there is nothing wrong with women going out to pray tarawih in the mosque and men cannot prevent them from doing this.
Ramadan and Charity
Ramadan is the month of generosity; giving charity and benevolence. It is the month of solidarity, kindness and mercy. Ibn 'Abbas narrated that the Messenger of God, sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam, was the most generous person and he would be at his most generous in Ramadan because Jibril would come to him every night and he would rehearse the Qur'an with him; he did so twice in the year of his death. [Al-Bukhari] The best charity, the best zakah and the best sadaqah to be given is that given during the month of Ramadan. Feeding the poor and needy of fasting people is highly recommended in Ramadan. The Prophet, sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam, said:
"Whoever feeds a fasting person will get a reward like him."
He also said:
"Protect yourself from the fire even by giving half of a date."
In the Qur'an there are five words used for charity: zakah (obligatory charity), sadaqah (charity), khayrat (good deeds), ihsan (kindness and consideration), infaq fi sabillillah (spending for the sake of God). They all aim to elevate the human personality by removing selfishness, greed and materialism. It creates compassion, care, love and kindness. They make a person more thankful to God.
Charity helps those who are in need and it provides funds for good causes and community projects.
There are three types of zakah:
- Annual Zakah;
- Zakatu'l-Fitr or Sadaqat'l-Fitr (Charity of Breaking Fasting); and
- Sadaqah Tatawu' (optional charity).
Some people are confused about these types of zakah and sadaqah. What is the difference between the three types?
1. Annual Zakah: One of the five pillars of Islam and is a duty performed on a regular basis. Zakah is a compulsory payment and is neither a charity nor a tax. Zakah benefits the giver as well as the receiver. It is a contribution paid once a year on savings of 2.5%. It is paid on the net balance after a Muslim has spent on basic necessities, family expenses, due credits, donations and taxes. The aim is to purify your wealth and possessions from excessive desire for them or greed. It also aims to purify the heart of the wealthy from stinginess and the heart of the poor from envy and hatred. It is expected from every Muslim individual. Assets to include in your Zakah calculation are cash [in bank accounts or on hand], gold, silver, shares, pensions, business goods, crops and cattle. You do not have to count personal items such as your home, furniture, cars, food, clothing, which are not used for business purposes.
2. Zakatu'l-Fitr or Sadaqatu'l-Fitr: A special charity for the month of Ramadan. Every free Muslim must pay zakatu'l-fitr for himself, his wife, children and servants. The amount of zakatu'l-fitr was fixed by the Prophet, sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam. It is about a sa' (approximately 2.6–3kg) of wheat, flour, barley, dates or raisins, or equivalent in cash, to the poor and needy. Cash might be better and more beneficial nowadays. This charity aims to help the poor and needy in the month of Ramadan and to celebrate 'Eid with other Muslims. The second aim is to expiate (kaffarah) for any mistakes or wrongdoings a person may have done during this blessed month.
3. Sadaqah Tatawu': Can be paid at any time to any poor person, including non-Muslims. A Muslim will be rewarded if he gives this type of charity but will not be blamed if he does not.
Who is Eligible for Charity?
Eight categories of people are entitled to zakah:
- Those who administer the zakah;
- Those whose hearts are reconciled for Islam (new Muslims etc.);
- To free the slaves;
- Those unable to pay their debts;
- Travellers rendered helpless; and
- In the Way of God.
These categories are mentioned in the Qur'an:
"Zakah expenditures are only for the poor and for the needy and for those employed to collect it and for bringing hearts together [for Islam] and for freeing captives [or slaves] and for those in debt and for the cause of God and for the [stranded] traveller - an obligation [imposed] by God. And God is Knowing and Wise."
What is the Pre-Dawn Meal (Suhur)?
The pre-dawn meal is one of the main meals during the blessed month of Ramadan. Doctors have confirmed that it is more important than the meal with which one breaks his fasting (iftar), because it helps the person persevere through the difficulties of fasting. This is the reason why Prophet Muhammad, sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam, advised us to eat even a small portion and encouraged us not to abandon it in many texts. He said:
"Eat suhur; Indeed, there is a blessing in suhur."
Suhur does not have to be a full meal. It is preferable that this meal include vegetables that contain a high level of fluids such as lettuce and cucumber, because this helps the body maintain fluids for a long period of time and thus reduces the feeling of thirst and prevents dehydration. Additionally, these types of vegetables are a good source for vitamins and minerals. It is also recommended to have beans with olive oil, cheese and eggs as a part of this meal. This is be cause it takes the body 7-9 hours to digest these types of foods and thus one's hunger would be delayed. Also, these types of food supply the body with the required energy throughout the day. Do not consume large quantities of sugar or salt, because sugar triggers hunger, while salt triggers thirst.
This blessed suhur meal has many health benefits for the fasting person, such as:
- Preventing the loss of body cells
- Preventing fatigue and headaches during the daytime
- Preventing the fasting person from feeling lazy, sluggish or in need of sleep
- It reduces extreme hunger and thirst
- It energizes and stimulates the digestive system
- It helps the body maintain its sugar levels while fasting
- It spiritually assists the believer to fulfil fasting as an act of worship
What Should be My Plan in Ramadan?
Every Muslim should take the opportunity of this great month and make a plan which will help him or her to achieve success in Ramadan. This plan should include the following categories:
- You and the prayer: Make sure you do the five prayers on time as much as possible. Perform other optional prayers such as tarawih, tahajjud or qiyam al-layl, etc.
- You and the Qur'an: Make sure you have a timetable for the portion you can read every day; how many pages, or juz', etc. Also, make sure you contemplate the meaning of the Qur'an. Each letter of the Qur'an that you read you get a minimum of 10 rewards up to 700 and multiplied by 70 in Ramadan. Imagine the reward from reading one juz'! The Prophet, sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam, used to recite the Qur'an to Jibril when Jibril met him. [Al-Bukhari]
- You and Charity: Every Muslim both male and female should be generous, especially in Ramadan. The Prophet Muhammad, sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam, was the most generous amongst the people and he used to be more so in the month of Ramadan. Remember zakatu'l-fitr which is equivalent to £6 for each person in the family at the end of Ramadan.
- You and tarawih: Remember not to miss praying tarawih every night in the masjid or at home or anywhere else.
- You and your ties of kinship: Remember to have good ties with your kinships and relatives. The Prophet, sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam, said that a person who severs the ties of kinship would not enter Paradise.
- You and da'wah: Try as much as possible to guide a non-practising friend to the guidance of Islam, or give out books and tapes about Islam during the month, etc. The Prophet, sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam, said, "If God were to guide someone by your hands, it would be better for you than this whole earth and what it contains."
- You and du'a (supplication): Maintain du'a in Ramadan and ask God for what you need. The Prophet, sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam, said, "The supplication of a fasting person upon breaking his fast will not be rejected."
In the end, I ask God, the Almighty, to help us all, to guide us all, and to help us to fast, pray and to do acts of worship and to avoid doing evil.
The author is the Chief Imam and Head of Religious Affairs at The Islamic Cultural Centre and London Central Mosque