The Sacred Month of Ramadan
"O you who have believed, decreed upon you is fasting as it was decreed upon those before you that you may become righteous.
[Fasting for] a limited number of days. So whoever among you is ill or on a journey [during them] - then an equal number of days [are to be made up]. And upon those who are able [to fast, but with hardship] - a ransom [as substitute] of feeding a poor person [each day]. And whoever volunteers excess - it is better for him. But to fast is best for you, if you only knew.
The month of Ramadan [is that] in which was revealed the Qur'an, a guidance for the people and clear proofs of guidance and criterion. So whoever sights [the new moon of] the month, let him fast it; and whoever is ill or on a journey - then an equal number of other days. Allah intends for you ease and does not intend for you hardship and [wants] for you to complete the period and to glorify Allah for that [to] which He has guided you; and perhaps you will be grateful." [Al-Qur'aan 2:183-185]
Ramadan is one of the pillars of Islam. It is the 9th Month of the Islamic Calendar (lunar based). In this month, Muslims all over the world fast for the sake of Allah (Almighty God) by abstaining from food, drink, and controlling one's desires as described by Allah, Most High, in the Qur'aan. In fact, this pillar of Islam is so important that if a Muslim dies without having made up missed fasts, the guardian (or heirs) of that person must make them up, for they are a debt owed to Allah, Most High.
There are many virtues of Ramadan as Allah, Most High, states in the Qur'aan:
"The month of Ramadan [is that] in which was revealed the Qur'an, a guidance for the people and clear proofs of guidance and criterion. So whoever sights [the new moon of] the month, let him fast it (that month)..." [Al-Qur'aan 2:185]
Also, the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) 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." [Bukhari]
Muslims believe that the influence of the devils on the believers who obey Allah is diminished during Ramadan. Prophet Muhammad said: "When the month of Ramadan starts, the gates of the heaven are opened and the gates of Hell are closed and the devils are chained." [Bukhari]
Furthermore, every night Allah has people whom He redeems from the Fire. In a Hadith of Abu Umaamah that the Prophet said, "At every breaking of the fast, Allah has people whom He redeems." [Ahmad]
Ramadan is the Month of Al-Qur'aan and good deeds!
Muslims believe that the first verses of the Qur'aan (Al-Qur'aan 96:1-5) were revealed in the month of Ramadan while Prophet Muhammad was in spiritual retreat in the cave of Hira' outside of Mecca. Later, when Ramadan was made compulsory, the Angel Gabriel would practice and recite the Qur'aan with Prophet Muhammad during the entire month. In his final year, the Prophet was able to recite the entire Qur'aan multiple times with Angel Gabriel in Ramadan. Ibn 'Abbas, one of the Prophet's Companions, narrates:
"...Angel Gabriel used to meet him on every night of Ramadan till the end of the month. The Prophet used to recite the Holy Qur'aan to Angel Gabriel..." [Bukhari]
Muslims all over the world try to continue the tradition of reading and listening to the entire Qur'aan at least once during the month of Ramadan. Many others read or recite the Qur'aan during Taraweeh Prayers, which are held only during Ramadan, or in private late night Prayers called Tahajjud or Qiyaam-ul-Layl (night prayers). Ramadan is considered the best time to get good habits, and so Muslims try to read and implement the Qur'aan into their daily lives during this time.
The reward of good deeds is multiplied from 10-700 times and more in Ramadan, and as we know, for reading one letter of the Qur'aan, a believer receives 10 good deeds, which can be multiplied during the month of Ramadan! Reading Qur'aan becomes a huge investment for the afterlife, especially during the month of Ramadan.
Also, Muslims try to spend more time in dhikr (remembrance of Allah), making more prayers, and more righteous deeds like giving. For many people, Ramadan is their favorite time for Umrah, a visit to the Ka'bah in Mecca. When performed in Ramadan, Umrah takes the same reward as Hajj or Pilgrimage (but it does not replace the obligatory Hajj, which can only be performed in the month of Hajj), thus, Umrah in Ramadan is equivalent to Hajj as it narrated by a companion of the Prophet, Ibn 'Abbaas, who said:
The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said to a woman among the Ansaar, "What kept you from doing Hajj with us?" She said, "We only had two camels that we used for bringing water." So her husband and son had gone for Hajj on one camel, and he left the other for them to use for bringing water." He said, "When Ramadan comes, go for Umrah, for Umrah in Ramadaan is equivalent to Hajj." According to a report narrated by Muslim, "... is equivalent to doing Hajj with me." [Bukhari, 1782; Muslim, 1256]
Charity in Ramadaan
Ramadan is also the month of charity. The Prophet Muhammad said:
"...Whoever draws nearer (to Allah) by performing any of the (optional) good deeds in (this month), shall receive the same reward as performing an obligatory deed at any other time; and whoever performs an obligatory deed in (this month), shall receive the reward of performing seventy obligations at any other time. It is the month of patience, and the reward of patience is Paradise. It is the month of charity, and a month in which a believer's sustenance is increased. Whoever gives food to a fasting person to break his fast shall have his sins forgiven, and he will be saved from the Hell-Fire, and he shall have the same reward as the fasting person, without his reward being diminished at all." [Ibn Khuzaymah]
Ibn 'Abbas also narrated:
"The Prophet was the most generous amongst the people, and he used to be more so in the month of Ramadan when Angel Gabriel visited him, and Angel Gabriel used to meet him on every night of Ramadan till the end of the month. The Prophet used to recite the Holy Qur'aan to Angel Gabriel, and when Angel Gabriel met him, he used to be more generous than a fast wind (which causes rain and welfare)." [Bukhari]
Thus Muslims should try to give generously in Ramadan, both sadaqah (optional charity) and Zakat-ul-Maal (obligatory charity). Sadaqah isn't only money. It can also be a good deed such as helping another person that is done for the sake of Allah and without expecting any reward from the person. Even a smile is considered charity in Islam. Most Muslims pay their Zakah during Ramadan because the reward is so much greater in that month.
It is obligatory for every Muslim to pay a small amount of Zakat-ul-Fitr before the end of Ramadan. This money is collected and given to the poorest of the poor so that they may also enjoy the festivities on 'Eid-ul-Fitr.
There is a great reward for feeding a fasting person, and so in many places, iftaar (breaking one's fast at sunset) is served in many masajids, with the food donated or provided by individuals to share with the communities. In some Muslim countries, tables are set up on the sidewalks or outside of masjids to serve iftaar to the poor, needy, and other. Such traditions also build a sense of brotherhood and community.
Families and friends also like to share iftaar with each other by taking turns hosting iftaar events. However, sometimes this generosity is exaggerated so that Ramadan becomes a month of lavish tables and overeating. This goes against the spirit of Ramadan and should be avoided.
The Last 10 days of Ramadan
Muslims also believe that the last ten days of Ramadan are the holiest of all, and try to make even greater efforts at that time to increase their worship. The holiest night of all, Laylat-ul-Qadr, or the Night of Power, falls on one of the odd numbered nights of the last ten days.
Laylat-ul-Qadr, is such an important night that Allah describes it in the Qur'aan as being better than one thousand months, meaning that worship done on this night is worth more than worship done in a thousand months. Allah says in the Qur'aan:
"Verily, We have sent it (this Qur'aan) down in the Night of Al-Qadr (Decree). And what will make you know what the Night of Al-Qadr (Decree) is? The Night of Al-Qadr (Decree) is better than a thousand months (i.e. worshipping Allaah in that night is better than worshipping Him a thousand months, i.e. 83 years and 4 months). Therein descend the angels and the Rooh [Jibreel (Angel Gabriel)] by Allah's Permission with all Decrees, (All that night), there is peace (and goodness from Allah to His believing slaves) until the appearance of dawn." [Al-Qur'aan 97:1-5]
Also, in Surah Dukhaan:
"We sent it (this Qur'aan) down on a blessed night [(i.e. the Night of Al-Qadr) in the month of Ramadan - the 9th month of the Islamic calendar]. Verily, We are ever warning [mankind that Our Torment will reach those who disbelieve in Our Oneness of Lordship and in Our Oneness of worship]." [Al-Qur'aan 44:3]
One should try to worship as much as he/she can during these last ten days of Ramadan, especially the odd nights, for this night could fall on any odd night in the last ten days of Ramadan.
Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him) said: The Messenger of Allah said: "Whoever spends Laylat-ul-Qadr in prayer out of faith and in the hope of reward, will be forgiven his previous sins." [Bukhari, 1910; Muslim, 760]
And Abu Hurayrah narrates: The Messenger of Allah said: "There has come to you Ramadan, a blessed month which Allah has enjoined you to fast, during which the gates of heaven are opened and the gates of Hell are closed, and the rebellious devils are chained up. In it there is a night which is better than a thousand months, and whoever is deprived of its goodness is indeed deprived." [Ahmad, Nasaa'i]
How Do I fast?
Fasting in Ramadan means to abstain not only from food and drink from sunrise 'til sunset, but also from sexual intercourse, lying, arguing, back-biting, any bad deeds or bad habits, and also from controlling one's desires. Also, one must be careful to restrain their tongues, temper, and even their gaze. Ramadan is the time for Muslims to learn to control themselves and to develop their spiritual side.
One should wake up with the intention to fast and have a pre-dawn meal (before sunrise), known as sahoor, before they begin fasting. The fast lasts from dawn to sunset. At sun set, one should hasten to break their fast as it is recommended by the Prophet Muhammad. Generally, Muslims may break their fast with a small amount of food, the Sunnah is to do so with an odd number of dates, salt or water - and then perform the Maghrib (sunset) Prayer before eating a full meal.
This is one of two Islamic holidays. Eid-ul-Fitr is the commemoration of the end of Ramadan, which occurs on the first day of the month of Shawwal (Month after Ramadan in the Lunar Islam Calendar). After sunset on the 29th of Ramadan, Muslims seek for the new moon and some wait for the announcement of whether the new moon has been sighted, which means that Ramadan is finished and the next day is Eid. In that case, there are no Taraweeh Prayers (Congregation Night Prayers) that night. If the moon has not been sighted, then there is one more day of fasting and the Taraweeh Prayers are performed and then the day after is the day of Eid.
The Eid is celebrated after sunrise on that day, with a prayer and a sermon, often followed by some form of halal (lawful) celebrations such as games for the children or food and sweets shared by everyone. It is a happy day for everyone. Although Eid-ul-Fitr lasts only one day, in Muslim countries, schools, offices, and shops are often closed for two or three days. The other Eid celebration is in the month of Hajj, called Eid-ul-Adha, which commemorates the rituals and traditions of Prophet Ibrahim and his son Ismaeel.
"Whoever prays qiyaam in Ramadan with the imam until he finishes, it will be recorded for him that he spent the whole night in prayer" [Abu Dawood, 1370] and others from the Hadith of Abu Dharr (may Allah be pleased with him) that the Messenger of Allah said: "Whoever prays qiyaam with the imam until he finishes, it will be recorded for him that he spent the whole night in prayer."
So, one should really try to perform these voluntary prayers for everything is multiplied in Ramadan. We should also remember that Taraweeh prayers are voluntary and not obligatory and they should not interfere with our obligatory worship, such as the five daily prayers.
It is Sunnah to observe itikaaf (retreat for the purpose of worship) in Ramadan, because the Prophet always did that, as it was narrated in the Hadith of Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her) that the Prophet used to spend the last ten days of Ramadan in itikaaf until he passed away, then his wives observed itikaaf after him. [Bukhari, 1922; Muslim, 1172]
Fasting in Shawwaal
Fasting Ramadan is a means of expiation for the sins committed since the previous Ramadan, so long as one avoids major sins. It was proven in an authentic Hadith that the Prophet said:
"The five daily prayers, from one Jummah to the next and from one Ramadan to the next are expiation for (sins committed) in between, so long as you avoid major sins." [Muslim]
One of the best supplications to ask during this holy month is:
"Allahumma innaka 'afuwwun tuhibbul 'afwa fa'afu annee (or annaa for everyone) - O Allah you are most forgiving and you love forgiveness, so forgive me." [Tirmidhi]
If any of the days of fasting were missed, they must be made up before the next Ramadan. Muslims generally should try to make them up as soon as possible because any days that are missed are considered as a debt to Allah. Muslims believe that if someone dies without having made up the fasts, the guardian or heir should fast the remaining days.
For Muslims, it is a Sunnah, an optional act of worship as practiced by Prophet Muhammad, to fast six days during the month of Shawwaal, the lunar month immediately following Ramadan. Muslims believe that if a Muslim fasts all of Ramadan and then fasts any six days in Shawwaal, the reward will be as if he or she has fasted the whole year. Many Muslims do take advantage of this mercy from Allah.
It is narrated by Abu Ayyoob al-Ansaari: "Whoever fasts Ramadan then follows it with six days of Shawwaal, it will be like fasting for a lifetime." [Muslim]
And also that the Prophet said: "Whoever fasts Ramadan, a month is like ten months, and fasting six days after Eid-ul-Fitr will complete the year." [Ahmad]
May Allah, Most High, bring us closer to him and forgive us of our sins and enter us into His paradise. Amee