The ninth month of the Islamic calendar, Ramadhan [link to page], is a highly sacred time that honours the fourth pillar of Islam, Sawm, which means to fast. It’s a highly significant time for Muslims everywhere which sees them fast for a full month between sunrise and sunset. It’s an extremely poignant time that is based on a rich yet complex history. Continue reading as we explore how Ramadhan came to be and why it’s such a highly regarded time in the religion of Islam.
To understand Ramadhan, you first need to grasp how the religion of Islam came to be. Islamic history starts in Mecca, Arabia in 610 A.D. A 40-year old man by the name of Muhammad (PBUH) lived in the city and frequented Cave Hira in the Jabal an-Nour mountain in order to meditate. On the 27th night of the ninth lunar month, Muhammad (PBUH) was meditating in the cave when he was descended upon by the angel Jibril (also referred to as the angel Gabriel).
The angel told Muhammad (PBUH) of Allah, the only true God. At this time in Mecca, it was widely believed that there were several Gods and, as such, people prayed to many different deities. The angel told Muhammad (PBUH) that this was wrong because there was only one God and His name was Allah (SWT). The angel went on to reveal the first segments of what later became known as the Qur’an – the direct words of Allah (SWT).
The angel commanded Muhammad (PBUH) to recite the words he had been shown, and although Muhammad (PBUH) couldn’t read or write, he was able to recite the words of Allah (SWT) before the angel perfectly.
The angel went on to tell Muhammad (PBUH) that he had been chosen by Allah (SWT) as the final of the 25 prophets of Islam. As such, Muhammad (PBUH) was commanded to spread the word of Allah (SWT) and tell everyone that He is the only true God. This night is referred to as Laylat al-Qadr which means the night of power.
Over the course of 23 years, the angel visited the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) many times; each time revealing more and more of the Qur’an and the words of Allah (SWT). Over the years, five core principles came to the forefront as the basic foundations that all followers of Islam should live their lives by.
Those five teachings are:
- Shahada – to declare your faith in Allah (SWT)
- Salat – to pray five times a day
- Zakah – to give charity
- Sawm – to fast
- Hajj – to make the pilgrimage to Mecca at least once
Sawm is the fourth pillar and was revealed well into the 23-year period of revelations alongside the teachings of Ramadhan. The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was instructed by Allah (SWT) to fast for the entirety of the ninth month of the lunar year. There are various reasons as to why Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and all followers of Islam were told to fast, including:
- To practice self-control and restraint
- To purify their bodies
- To be mindful of those living in hunger
- To use time otherwise spent eating to pray and strengthen their bond with Allah (SWT)
The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was told that in addition to abstaining from food, Muslims should also refrain from swearing, fighting, arguing, gossiping and all impure thoughts/activities during sunlight hours. He was also informed that every Muslim with more than one ‘Sa (two cupped handfuls of staple foods – equivalent to around 3kg) must make a charitable donation known as Zakah al-Fitr/Fitrana [link to page]. This is irrespective of age. If a child cannot pay but they live in a household with food in excess of their needs, the head of their household must pay on their behalf. Fitrana payments must be made during Ramadhan, before Eid ul-Fitr prayers.
Fitrana was formerly paid by way of donating one ‘Sa of staple food, but Islam has now spread across the world and which makes giving food directly to the needy difficult. To combat this, registered charities such as ILM accept monetary donations equivalent to one ‘Sa (usually £5 or less) and use it to distribute aid amongst communities most in need.
Zakah al-Fitr/Fitrana is not to be confused with Zakah. Zakah can be given at any time of the year (though many choose to donate on Laylat al-Qadr or any of the other last 10 nights of Ramadhan) and is only payable by those who meet the Nisab threshold.
Allah (SWT) told Muhammad (PBUH) that all able Muslims should fast, although He outlined a group of people who could refrain from food fasting (the other aspects of Ramadhan were still to be adhered to). Those exempt from fasting include:
- The sick and poorly (including those on prescribed medication)
- The elderly and frail
- Pre-pubescent children and infants (typically 14 years and under)
- Menstruating, pregnant, and breastfeeding women
During Ramadhan, Muslims eat two meals: suhoor and iftar. Suhoor is the meal that is eaten before sunrise and is very similar to a traditional breakfast. High fibre, high protein, high water foods are eaten, such as eggs, cereal, toast, fruit and soup. Iftar is the meal that is eaten after the sun has set and is similar to a normal dinner, although it is altered slightly to include as many as food groups as possible.
The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) ate dates to break his fast, and as such, many Muslims eat dates prior to enjoying their suhoor and iftar meals.
The end of Ramadhan is marked with Eid ul-Fitr celebrations. As a reward for fasting, Muslims are rewarded with rich food, presents and gatherings with friends and family.
Find Out More
If you’d like to find out more about the history of Ramadhan, Fitrana, Eid or Zakah, please consult your local Imam, or contact us.