Ramadan. In Egypt it would probably symbolize the medieval suburbs of Cairo all decorated with the ‘Fanous Ramadan’ (or beautifully coloured glass lanterns). In Ghana it would be synonymous with early morning drummers who walk around the village from house to house playing their drums and singing to wake everyone up for the early morning meal. In Malaysian streets it is once again that time of the year when traders display their culinary expertise in the traditional ‘Bazaar Ramadan’, where people can buy a variety of delicious foods to break their fast with.
South African Muslims do not fall short. Many housewives are already exchanging recipes in preparation for a baking frenzy that produces a harvest of savouries and delicacies for the month. The ‘samoosa’ (or as other South Africans call it ‘drie hoek koekie’) is a common cuisine in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal, while down in the Cape, it is traditional for young children to take plates of cookies and ‘daltjies’ (pea-flour balls with spinach and spices) to the neighbours as the day of fasting nears a close.
Whatever the culture, Ramadan, the highlight of the Islamic calendar, has a special spiritual significance for Muslims worldwide. There is much more to it than what meets the casual eye of the onlooker. The cultural kaleidoscope is merely a garb that adorns something which unites Muslims worldwide. This is that time of the year when Muslims once again enjoy the opportunity of getting closer to their Creator with greater fervour and zeal compared to other times during the year.
Although fasting throughout the day, from before dawn to dusk, may seem like an epic uphill struggle between soul and flesh, there are many benefits that flow from this month. Fasting is not unique to Islam, rather it is an ancient discipline that finds expression in myriad cultures, creeds and faiths. One could even argue that the modern fixation with ‘dieting’ and maintaining the perfect figure is simply an expression of an inherent, spiritual need of humans to regulate their food intake. Fasting has been found to be an effective treatment for psychological and emotional disorders. It helps a person to cultivate strong will power, strengthens his conviction to do good deeds, to avoid controversy, petulance and rashness; which all contribute towards a sane and healthy personality.
Besides nurturing resistance and the ability to face hardships with endurance, fasting reflects on the outward physical appearance by tempering the urge for gluttony and getting rid of excess fat. Generally speaking, fasting hastens the destruction of the decaying tissues of the body by means of hunger, and then builds new tissues through nutrition. This is why some scientists suggest that fasting should be regarded as an effective means of restoring youthfulness and longevity.
So much for the physical dimension; for Muslims, fasting itself is also a spiritual rejuvenation and nourishment for the soul. But it is only one small part of Ramadan. At this time of year, there exists an aura of devoutness in every suburb where Muslims reside. The number of worshippers frequenting the Masjid increases; men, women and children alike, attempt to dress in a manner enhancing modesty and which is a closer semblance to what Islam recommends. The fasting person makes an all out endeavour to abstain from any action which is deemed untoward, and even if provoked, it is not uncommon to hear a fasting person saying, ‘Please leave me alone, I am fasting.’
“Fasting is not unique to Islam, rather it is an ancient discipline that finds expression in myriad cultures, creeds and faiths.”CULTURE
Photography by Ashwin Uchiha
which is a closer semblance to what Islam recommends. The fasting person makes an all out endeavour to abstain from any action which is deemed untoward, and even if provoked, it is not uncommon to hear a fasting person saying, ‘Please leave me alone, I am fasting.’
Sunset is unique. The experience at the end of a day’s fasting, that quiet time of reflection as the sun prepares to dip finally under the horizon, is unique, incomparable. In some homes, it may be that time of the day when the womenfolk display their cooking skills and the family gathers around the dining table to enjoy a feast of delicacies. However, Muslims do and are encouraged to be considerate of those less fortunate, especially during Ramadan. The feeding of a fasting person, even if it be a mere sip of water, is regarded as a highly meritorious and rewarding act. In keeping with this spirit of engendering empathy for the poor and destitute through fasting, affluent Muslims are required to offer an additional obligatory charity for the poor before the end of the month.
According to Islamic tradition, Ramadan is the month which commemorates the revelation of the Noble Qur’an. It was also in this noble month that the Almighty sent down the books of Moses, David and Jesus. Thus, the spiritual enrichment which was experienced by day continues into the night when those who have miraculously committed the Qur’an to memory, lead the congregation in prayer during the evenings. These are special prayers, over and above the regular, five-times daily prayers in the Masjids, and are called ‘taraweeh salaah’. In most Masjids throughout the world, about one portion of the thirty parts of the Noble Qur’an is recited each night in prayer, so as to complete an entire revision by the end of the month. So, the physical feast is coupled with a spiritual one. To add to the spiritual dose, some prefer to seclude themselves in the Masjid during the last few days of the month in order to increase their devotions and supplication.
Then comes the sighting of the crescent moon that marks the beginning of the next lunar month. The first appearance of the silvery sliver of thumbnail in the sky heralds the end of a month of fasting and arrival of the Day of Eid, that is celebrated in gratitude to the Almighty. Muslims congratulate one another and share a day of joy with family and friends. Children happily dress up for the day and cherish the gifts they customarily receive from grandparents, relatives and neighbours. In all this merriment, Muslims should neither over indulge to an extent of transgressing limits, nor be inconsiderate of those who are not fortunate enough to enjoy the extras in life.
Islamic tradition, Ramadan is the month which commemorates the revelation of the Noble Qur’an.
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