Ramadan unifies the Islamic Ummah in belief, thought and practice

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Mohamed Chtatou – Université Internationale de Rabat

Instituted in Medina in the year 624, the Ramadan fast is a commemoration of the first revelation made to the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in the ninth month of the lunar year. It is a time of joy and generosity, where the individual is attentive to the neediest and strengthens the links with the religious community. The practitioner observes prayer, strict daytime abstinence and the rite of breaking the fast at sunset.

The origin

Ramadan is one of the months of the Islamic calendar. It was also part of the ancient Arabic calendars. The name Ramadan comes from the Arabic root RMD and the words “ramida“ or “ar-ramad“, which means “scorching heat”.

On this particular point, Sheikh Mubarak Ahmad writes:[i]

“According to Ibn-Hisham, the Quraish tribe of Mecca used to retire to Mount Hira for religious devotion and penance during the month of Ramadan, abstaining from sex etc., although this month was not regarded as a sacred month among the four pre-Islamic sacred months of Qa‘dah, Hijjah, Muharram and Rajab. “

And he goes on to say:

“The word Ramadan is an Islamic name as prior to Islam it was known as Nataq (Fath-ul-Bayan). The word is derived from ramada. They say “ramada al-salimu”, that is the inside of the man fasting became very hot with thirst (Lane). The month is so named because firstly, fasting in this month produces heat and burning due to thirst; secondly, worship in this month burns away the traces of sin in man (Asakir and Mardawaih) and thirdly, the necessary warmth of love for the Creator and His Created beings is generated in the hearts of those who fast. “

Ramadan is considered a good deed burning away sins. In the year 610, the angel Gabriel appeared to the prophet Muhammad and revealed to him the Qur’an, the Islamic holy book. This revelation, Laylat al-Qadr – or the “Night of Destiny” – is said to have taken place during Ramadan. Muslims fast during this month to commemorate the revelation of the Qur’an.

Muslim astronomers at work sighting the Ramadan moon

From a religious point of view, the importance of Ramadan is not simply due to the fact that its prescriptions are detailed in the Holy Book. It is, in the first place, the fourth pillar of Islam along with the profession of faith, prayer, almsgiving and the pilgrimage to Mecca for those who can afford it. It was during the second year of the Prophet’s installation in Medina that fasting became obligatory. At that time, this practice was not unknown to the inhabitants of the Arabian Peninsula, some of whom were Jews or Christians.

Ramadan also has both religious and historical significance. It is respectively the month of the capture of Mecca by the Prophet in the year 8 of the Hegira (630), the month of the birth of Hussein, Muhammad’s grandson, and the month of the death of Khadija, his first wife. More importantly, it was during the month of Ramadan that the Muslims recorded their first military victory against their Meccan enemies in the year 2 of Hegira (624) during the Battle of Badr. This is significant because it is this historical landmark, among others, that Muslim extremist groups point to when they attempt to justify their increased activism and violent actions during Ramadan.

Ramadan, a spiritual journey

Ramadan is not only about abstinence from food – from sunrise to sunset – but more about a spiritual journey where the Muslim seeks to get closer to excellence by purifying his soul and shedding his evil inclinations.

This month is also the month of generosity and sharing; if Islam reminds us of the benefits of generosity towards one’s fellow man in general, the month of Ramadan is an opportunity to surpass oneself. The pious Muslim will try to perform a maximum of optional prayers, invocations, and make donations as much as possible. During this month, the relationship with God is such that he feels very little hunger, thirst or fatigue; and his heart is calm and at peace.

Ramadan is a true spiritual source that nourishes the soul, enhances faith and piety. This month increases tenfold the divine rewards of religious practice, brings Muslims closer together and revives faith. A Ramadan without prayer or reading the Holy Qur’an has no value in itself: fasting is certainly a condition, but religious practice is inseparable from Ramadan. Sharing, generosity and love for one’s neighbor are the intrinsic values of a Muslim, and this blessed month is an opportunity for him to put them forward by inviting the needy to break the fast at his home, or to give his time to charitable actions and undertakings generously.

Breaking the fast collectively.

Thus, Muslims have the duty to pray, to reflect on the place of faith in their lives and on how to develop their human qualities, such as patience, gentleness, compassion and humility. Finally, they practice almsgiving zakat al-fitr, which consists of paying an obligatory tax to the mosque or to an individual in need, just before the end of Ramadan. At nightfall, the faithful gather with family and friends to eat a festive meal. On the first day of the following month, Eid al-Fitr, the festival of breaking the fast, is celebrated.

The month of Ramadan is a unique opportunity in the year to get closer to God the Almighty. The things one can do during this month, the devotion one has, are incomparable with the rest of the year. This can be seen in the number of people who attend mosques during this month: the attendance doubles. And there too, it is a unique atmosphere where the members of the community meet more often for the five prayers and take time to discuss after the night prayer.

The fast aims to bring the faithful closer to God through sacrifice, remembrance and a more intense spirituality. It is also a month of gratitude during which the faithful remember the sufferings of the less fortunate. Islam also requires the faithful to distance themselves from material pleasures and focus on their thoughts and actions. Fasting is seen as a physical and spiritual purification. Muslims often donate to charitable organizations during Ramadan. Many spend more time at the mosque or use their free time to recite the Holy Qur’an.

Fasting allows one to grow in stamina, strength of will, self-discipline, and introspection, which are indispensable qualities for submission to God. At the same time, it exercises one’s soul to fear God and to grow in piety. It is about depriving oneself to promote spirituality and reflection. The idea is not to stop eating as a ritual in itself, it is also a form of control and asceticism.

Let us remember that piety is a devotion, a respectful and fervent attachment to God and to the religion, in this case, Islam. This implies adherence to and respect for all the principles and precepts advocated by Islam, as well as what comes under the obligations and what does not. These include prayers, invocations, fasting, charity, almsgiving, reading the Holy Qur’an, spiritual retreat, etc. It is recommended to avoid everything that is contrary to God’s will, including hypocrisy, cheating, stealing, lying, violence, adultery, murder, wickedness, corruption… in short, all the vices and everything that can pollute our spirit. However, every human being is likely to commit sins; the point here is to make efforts to get closer to God by multiplying acts of faith and piety.

Surah 2, Verse 177 can guide us in this process and especially in this holy month of Ramadan.

“Righteousness is not that you turn your faces toward the east or the west, but [true] righteousness is [in] one who believes in Allah , the Last Day, the angels, the Book, and the prophets and gives wealth, in spite of love for it, to relatives, orphans, the needy, the traveler, those who ask [for help], and for freeing slaves; [and who] establishes prayer and gives zakah; [those who] fulfill their promise when they promise; and [those who] are patient in poverty and hardship and during battle. Those are the ones who have been true, and it is those who are the righteous. “

Let us also emphasize that the month of Ramadan is on the one hand, socially beneficial by leading the community more to organization, communion, sense of responsibility, solidarity, equality, justice, love, etc. On the other hand, it contributes to the improvement of health, in particular by promoting the elimination of toxins and excess fat, by cleansing the digestive organs, etc. It is a school that teaches us to go beyond our aspirations, our desires, our instincts, our egoisms… in order to seek the proximity of God who brings us wisdom, peace of heart, light of mind, etc.

Fasting allows one to grow in stamina, strength of will, self-discipline, and introspection, which are indispensable qualities for submission to God. At the same time, it exercises one’s soul to fear God and to grow in piety.

Fourth of the five pillars of Islam, it is obligatory and corresponds for the believers to a period of rupture, of stripping, of sharing: everyone must abstain from drinking, eating, smoking and having sexual relations from sunrise to sunset. In this regard, Allah the Almighty, says:

“Believers! Fasting is enjoined upon you, as it was enjoined upon those before you, that you become God-fearing. “(2:183)

يٰٓـاَيُّهَا الَّذِيۡنَ اٰمَنُوۡا كُتِبَ عَلَيۡکُمُ الصِّيَامُ کَمَا كُتِبَ عَلَى الَّذِيۡنَ مِنۡ قَبۡلِکُمۡ لَعَلَّكُمۡ تَتَّقُوۡنَۙ‏

Only the sick, pregnant women or travelers can avoid it, but they will have to “compensate” by other days of abstinence during the year or by giving alms.

“Fasting is for a fixed number of days, and if one of you be sick, or if one of you be on a journey, you will fast the same number of other days later on. For those who are capable of fasting (but still do not fast) there is a redemption: feeding a needy man for each day missed. Whoever voluntarily does more good than is required, will find it better for him;184 and that you should fast is better for you, if you only know. “(2:184)

اَيَّامًا مَّعۡدُوۡدٰتٍؕ فَمَنۡ كَانَ مِنۡكُمۡ مَّرِيۡضًا اَوۡ عَلٰى سَفَرٍ فَعِدَّةٌ مِّنۡ اَيَّامٍ اُخَرَ​ؕ وَعَلَى الَّذِيۡنَ يُطِيۡقُوۡنَهٗ فِدۡيَةٌ طَعَامُ مِسۡكِيۡنٍؕ فَمَنۡ تَطَوَّعَ خَيۡرًا فَهُوَ  ٗ ؕ وَاَنۡ تَصُوۡمُوۡا خَيۡرٌ لَّـکُمۡ اِنۡ كُنۡتُمۡ تَعۡلَمُوۡنَ‏ خَيۡرٌ لَّه

The practitioner may freely choose another time of the year, as long as the fast is performed according to the rules and in continuity. Deliberately stopping the fast, missing days or breaking any of the rules will result in an additional two months of fasting for each day missed. This atonement fast may be substituted for a monetary or food donation for those in need. This is also the case for those who are exempt, such as the chronically ill or pregnant women, who cannot fast without endangering their lives.

Caring and sharing

Apart from prayer, strict regulations on the control of bodily needs and pleasures punctuate the daily life of the believer. The believer must abstain from drink, food, sex and desire from dawn until sunset. At that time, he breaks the fast with a balanced, lean meal and will eat a second meal just before daybreak: suhûr. Ramadan, though obligatory, is flexible. It shows an understanding attitude towards the individual practitioner.

This act of generosity towards the needy is not locked in the register of punishment, but in an awareness of a life in community. A true celebration, Ramadan, which advocates individual deprivation, is also a form of solidarity and food sharing that goes beyond family and religious boundaries. The individual act of faith goes hand in hand with the desire for collective social justice.

Three time periods of ten days punctuate the month and the intention of the believer’s prayers. The first is devoted to soliciting God’s blessing. The second is turned to repentance and forgiveness. During the third, one seeks protection from the fires of hell. Ramadan culminates on one of the odd nights of the last time period: this is the “Night of Destiny “(Laylat-al-Qadr), a night that “equals a thousand months” according to the Holy Qur’an:

“(97:1) Behold, We revealed this (Qur’an) on the Night of Power.

(97:2) And what do you know what the Night of Power is?

(97:3) The Night of Power is better than a thousand months.

(97:4) The angels along with the Spirit3 descend in it by the permission of their Lord4 with all kinds of decrees.

(97:5) All peace is that night until the rise of dawn. “

بِّسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَنِ الرَّحِيمِ إِنَّا أَنزَلْنَاهُ فِي لَيْلَةِ الْقَدْرِ 1

وَمَا أَدْرَاكَ مَا لَيْلَةُ الْقَدْرِ 2

لَيْلَةُ الْقَدْرِ خَيْرٌ مِّنْ أَلْفِ شَهْرٍ 3

تَنَزَّلُ الْمَلَائِكَةُ وَالرُّوحُ فِيهَا بِإِذْنِ رَبِّهِم مِّن كُلِّ أَمْرٍ 4

سَلَامٌ هِيَ حَتَّى مَطْلَعِ الْفَجْرِ 5

It is invaluable because it is closely related to the Qur’an. There are at least five merits of Laylat-Al-Qadr:

a – The Qur’an was revealed on the night of Destiny: ” Behold, We revealed this (Qur’an) on the Night of Destiny. ” (Qur’an 97/1).

b – It is better than a thousand months or 83 years and 4 months: ” The Night of Destiny is better than a thousand months. “(Qur’an 97/3).

c – God erases all previous sins:

The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said:

“Whoever stands (in the voluntary night prayer of) Ramadan out of faith and in the hope of reward, his previous sins will be forgiven. And whoever spends the night of Lailat Al-Qadr in prayer out of faith and in the hope of reward, his previous sins will be forgiven.”

َ قَالَ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ مَنْ قَامَ رَمَضَانَ إِيمَانًا وَاحْتِسَابًا غُفِرَ لَهُ مَا تَقَدَّمَ مِنْ ذَنْبِهِ وَمَنْ قَامَ لَيْلَةَ الْقَدْرِ إِيمَانًا وَاحْتِسَابًا غُفِرَ لَهُ مَا تَقَدَّمَ مِنْ ذَنْبِهِ

d – God answers all invocations on this night.

e – God frees as many people from hellfire on this night as He has freed since the beginning of Ramadan.

It commemorates the exact moment when the Qur’an was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). Likely to occur on any night of the last decade, the “Night of Destiny “and the great benefit it offers would be revealed to the believer who diligently sought it out through prayer and observance of the fast, just as the Qur’an revealed itself to the Prophet.

The essence of fasting

Fasting is related to the nature of the human being as taught in the Qur’an. The human being, in the Qur’an, consists of an entity of material essence and an entity of spiritual essence. Like a statue, made of material and form, the human being is the conjunction of the cells in his body and the values in his soul.

Like animals, the project of the genetic entity is to satisfy its needs in order to continue functioning. In its reflexes, it leans inexorably toward the conditions that maintain its survival, its well-being, and its comfort. Made of material cells, the body feeds on other material cells. It is localized in space and time, where it moves and ages.

It is different for the soul. The quest for consciousness is the essential project of the soul. By its very nature, it carries values and is nourished by ethics. In its “association” with the body entity, the human soul is comparable to a rider on his mount. The rider is not the mount. But what is a rider without a mount? The fact is that our five senses are continuously solicited by the natural needs of the genetic entity. This demand is pressing and continuous. It is capable of filling a human existence with the risk of putting the soul to sleep, of diverting it from its project.

The Islamic faith institutes five daily moments of respite called the salât, the Muslim prayer. It is a spiritual exercise with a coded ritual, whose purpose is to remind the soul of its spiritual project. The fasting of the month of Ramadan is an exercise that fits into this perspective.

The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said:

“Whoever observes fasts during the month of Ramadan out of sincere faith, and hoping to attain Allah’s rewards, then all his past sins will be forgiven.”

“‏ مَنْ صَامَ رَمَضَانَ إِيمَانًا وَاحْتِسَابًا غُفِرَ لَهُ مَا تَقَدَّمَ مِنْ ذَنْبِهِ ‏”‏‏.‏

Intensive spiritual training

By abstaining from food, drink, and voluptuousness from sunrise to sunset, the Muslim fasting person counteracts natural inclinations of his body. By curbing superfluous speech and initiatives, he practices disciplining his mind. He re-affirms his will, for he sees his impulses dawning and disposes himself to apprehend them in order to channel them.

Muslim women practicing Tarâwîh prayers.

Certain physical needs being sublimated, contained and postponed in time, the fasting person escapes their grip and becomes better available to the spiritual experience. During this sacred month, the Muslim intensifies his spiritual exercises. Prayer, meditation, recollection, charity are his priorities.

Mealtime, the iftâr, sounds a victory, the flavor of which is deeply intimate. Neither a diet nor a nightly racket, the Ramadan fast is not a mortification of the body. It is meant to be a month of intensive training, where the genetic entity is weakened, cut off from its sources of energy, and the spiritual entity is invigorated, nourished by acts of piety.

This is why Quranic symbolism cites ar-Rayyân, one of the gates of Paradise especially reserved for fasters! Sahl ibn Sa’d reported: The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

“Verily, there is a gate in Paradise called al-Rayyan, through which only those who fasted will enter on the Day of Resurrection. No one else will enter it along with them. It will be said: Where are those who fasted that they may enter? When the last of them enter, it will be closed and no one else will go through it.”

إِنَّ فِي الْجَنَّةِ بَابًا يُقَالُ لَهُ الرَّيَّانُ يَدْخُلُ مِنْهُ الصَّائِمُونَ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ لَا يَدْخُلُ مِنْهُ أَحَدٌ غَيْرُهُمْ يُقَالُ أَيْنَ الصَّائِمُونَ فَيَقُومُونَ لَا يَدْخُلُ مِنْهُ أَحَدٌ غَيْرُهُمْ فَإِذَا دَخَلُوا أُغْلِقَ فَلَمْ يَدْخُلْ مِنْهُ أَحَدٌ

Ramadan is about sharing

Practicing fasting every day during Ramadan puts you in the shoes of those who have nothing to eat. It is a kind of lesson for oneself. We can thus understand when we have gone through an ordeal. At the same time, it is a way to educate our children on the respect of food. Ramadan is also the month of sharing, conviviality and forgiveness.

Abu Huraira reported that the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

“Whoever relieves the hardship of a believer in this world, Allah will relieve his hardship on the Day of Resurrection. Whoever helps ease one in difficulty, Allah will make it easy for him in this world and in the Hereafter. Whoever conceals the faults of a Muslim, Allah will conceal his faults in this world and in the Hereafter. Allah helps the servant as long as he helps his brother. Whoever travels a path in search of knowledge, Allah will make easy for him a path to Paradise. People do not gather in the houses of Allah, reciting the book of Allah and studying it together, but that tranquility will descend upon them, mercy will cover them, angels will surround them, and Allah will mention them to those near him. Whoever is slow to good deeds will not be hastened by his lineage.”

مَنْ نَفَّسَ عَنْ مُؤْمِنٍ كُرْبَةً مِنْ كُرَبِ الدُّنْيَا نَفَّسَ اللَّهُ عَنْهُ كُرْبَةً مِنْ كُرَبِ يَوْمِ الْقِيَامَةِ وَمَنْ يَسَّرَ عَلَى مُعْسِرٍ يَسَّرَ اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ فِي الدُّنْيَا وَالآخِرَةِ وَمَنْ سَتَرَ مُسْلِمًا سَتَرَهُ اللَّهُ فِي الدُّنْيَا وَالآخِرَةِ وَاللَّهُ فِي عَوْنِ الْعَبْدِ مَا كَانَ الْعَبْدُ فِي عَوْنِ أَخِيهِ وَمَنْ سَلَكَ طَرِيقًا يَلْتَمِسُ فِيهِ عِلْمًا سَهَّلَ اللَّهُ لَهُ بِهِ طَرِيقًا إِلَى الْجَنَّةِ وَمَا اجْتَمَعَ قَوْمٌ فِي بَيْتٍ مِنْ بُيُوتِ اللَّهِ يَتْلُونَ كِتَابَ اللَّهِ وَيَتَدَارَسُونَهُ بَيْنَهُمْ إِلاَّ نَزَلَتْ عَلَيْهِمُ السَّكِينَةُ وَغَشِيَتْهُمُ الرَّحْمَةُ وَحَفَّتْهُمُ الْمَلاَئِكَةُ وَذَكَرَهُمُ اللَّهُ فِيمَنْ عِنْدَهُ وَمَنْ بَطَّأَ بِهِ عَمَلُهُ لَمْ يُسْرِعْ بِهِ نَسَبُهُ

Ramadan is a joyous time for most of us but unfortunately not for everyone. Entire families under the yoke of hunger, thirst and disease, are waiting for a helping hand that would allow them to fully enjoy this holy month.

Ramadan is not only deprivation; it is also a matter of taste. During the month of Ramadan, the day is devoted to asceticism with a strict prohibition on eating or engaging in addictive practices or practices likely to give pleasure. The nights are a time of conviviality and sharing between relatives, where great attention is paid to the purity of the food that constitutes the iftâr and the suhûr, the two nightly meals.

Generosity towards others does not stop at the family and friendship circle. Huge free public feasts called mawâ’id ar-rahmân are organized by non-governmental organizations in Muslim countries to feed the poor and the orphans.

Narrated Abu Musa Al-Ash`ari, the Prophet (ﷺ) said:

“Give food to the hungry, pay a visit to the sick and release (set free) the one in captivity (by paying his ransom).

أَطْعِمُوا الْجَائِعَ، وَعُودُوا الْمَرِيضَ، وَفُكُّوا الْعَانِيَ ‏”‏‏.‏ قَالَ سُفْيَانُ وَالْعَانِي الأَسِيرُ‏.‏

Sociologically speaking, fasting is an expression of solidarity with the poor. It manifests itself through the concept of charity, neighborliness and hospitality. In addition to helping to purify the body and soul through the process of self-purification, addressing these areas of social importance can only help people to rid themselves of all those things that are not socially desirable.

Charity is strongly encouraged during the month of fasting. This includes helping the poor by giving alms. It is estimated that if a person gives even a small amount during this month, he or she will receive 70 times more blessings in return.

Self-reform and self-discipline

This is an elaborate process of self-reform and self-restraint and involves a wide range of responsibilities on the part of those who observe the fast.  It also helps to strengthen the powers of self-control, to abstain from natural human impulses by exercising capacity for self-restraint, which leads to self-improvement. On the spiritual level, it helps to reach the proximity of God. It is a form of self-training in the hope that these qualities will extend beyond this month and remain with the faithful throughout the year.

Psychologically, it is a belief that this month-long process is the best instrument for shaping the behavior of its practitioners so that they become ideal human beings.  It essentially implies that a person observing the fast will not only observe abstinence from eating and drinking but will put himself in a sublime state of mind in order to develop positive feelings. Therefore, fasting strengthens impulse control and helps to develop good behavior. This purification of the soul and body harmonizes the inner and outer spheres of an individual. True observance leads to a sense of inner peace and tranquility, so necessary during the period of confinement.

In addition, one must refrain from listening, speaking, hearing or thinking negatively about others. If one applies such restraint and goes through this self-purification process for a period of one month, one expects its impact to last for at least the remaining 11 months, when this process is repeated again.  Unfortunately, we consider this to be only a physical fast and do not strive to achieve what is expected from this great and important month.


Different types of fasting (siyâm) are present in Islam. Fasts of an expiatory nature make up for a fault committed. There are those that replace a religious duty that one is unable to perform. And the fasts that are voluntarily practiced as part of asceticism. The fast of Ramadan is different from these, because it is at the very foundation of Islam as a religion. It is instituted as a manifestation of homage to God and thus has a sacred, obligatory and festive character.

Fasting increases devotion, and brings a Muslim closer to the Creator. It creates the recognition that everything we have in this life is a blessing from Him. It teaches self-control or restraint, and thus good manners, good speech, and good habits.

Great merits and rewards – both physical and spiritual – can be derived from fasting. The physiological effect of fasting includes lowering blood sugar, lowering cholesterol and lowering systolic blood pressure. In fact, Ramadan fasting would be an ideal recommendation for the treatment of mild to moderate, stable, non-insulin diabetes, obesity, and essential hypertension.

And when one combines these meritorious acts such as prayer, fasting and charity (three of the five pillars of Islam) during the month of Ramadan, which is described as a month of blessing when the Qur’an was revealed, Allah promises immense rewards. Muhammad (pbuh), Allah’s Messenger said:

“Whoever observes fasts during the month of Ramadan out of sincere faith, and hoping to attain Allah’s rewards, then all his past sins will be forgiven.”

مَنْ صَامَ رَمَضَانَ إِيمَانًا وَاحْتِسَابًا غُفِرَ لَهُ مَا تَقَدَّمَ مِنْ ذَنْبِهِ ‏‏‏.‏