Ramadan basics

This post was written by our Arabic e-Tutor, Maged.

The meaning of Ramadan

The holy month of Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic Hijri Calendar. The word Ramadan comes from the Arabic root ramiḍa or ar-ramaḍ, which means scorching heat or dryness. It is a month of fasting, which is one of the five pillars upon which Islam is founded along with prayer and zakat.  While fasting from dawn until sunset, Muslims refrain from consuming food, drinking liquids, smoking, and engaging in sexual relations. Muslims are also instructed to refrain from sinful behavior that may negate the reward of fasting, such as false speech (insulting, cursing, lying, etc.) and fighting. Food and drink are served daily, before dawn and after sunset.

Since Muslims live all over the world, but Islam started in what is now known as Saudi Arabia, there is some disagreement as to which country’s first moon sighting marks the start of the month.

The Qur’an was first revealed during this month. The actual night that the Qur’an was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad is called Lailat ul Qadr, and to stand in prayer on this one night is said to be better than a thousand months of worship. Ramadan is often called ‘month of the Qur’an’ because of this, and Muslims attempt to recite as much of the Qur’an as they can during the month. Most mosques will recite one-thirtieth of the Qur’an each night during the Taraweeh prayers (A special prayer during Ramadan that is prayed after the Isha prayer in the mosques in congregation).

Ramadan Lantern 2016

Ramadan Traditions

A lot of Muslims decorate their houses to embrace the Ramadan theme. Scatter lanterns, lit with electric lights or candles around the house, terrace or garden make it look celebratory and welcoming.  Nothing can give home a Ramadan atmosphere more than Ramadan lanterns.

Since the time of the Mamelukes, the Egyptian government used cannons to remind people about suhur (the light meal Muslims have before they begin the dawn-to-dusk fasting) and iftar (the meal Muslims have after breaking their fasting) by firing them a little before the Fajr (dawn) prayer and at the time of Maghreb (sunset). Live ammunition was used to fire the cannons until 1859 when the authorities started applying a safer system.

Come Ramadan, many age-old traditions in the Islamic world are revived. One of such interesting traditions, especially in the Arab world, is the “mesaharaty”, or the night caller, who takes upon him the task of walking around the village or city, waking people for suhur by beating his drum.

In many Islamic countries, the time on the roads before breaking the daily fast is known as ‘Ramadan rush hour’. After a long day of fasting, typical daily activities such as driving or commuting home can become very taxing.

Charity and gifts during Ramadan

Although Ramadan is about self-control, it is also a time to be charitable. Muslims believe their charitable actions during the holy month have a longer lasting effect. Ramadan sales take place in shopping centers, but rather than slashing prices, stores prefer to offer customers small gifts in exchange for spending money on their brands.

Shoppers also spend their money on Arab sweets and dates to break the fast when the sun sets. Other retail lovers use the time to buy new clothes for Eid al-Fitr, the time to celebrate the end of the fasting period.

A boy named Ramadan?

Ramadan may be the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, but it also gained some popularity as a first name for Muslim boys in the USA in the 1990s. This may seem unusual if compared with Christian naming traditions: children are often named after saints and virtues, but Easter is yet to make an appearance on naming popularity polls.

Photo Credit: Kodak Agfa via Compfight cc