Ramadan, the holy month for Muslims, has begun.
If you are as curious as I am, you may have wanted to ask certain questions about this period but probably could not because you did not wanted to offend your Muslim friends.
This article intends to answer those unasked questions so that we can all be enlightened about what our friends, colleagues and family are doing.
Here are five answers to things we always wanted to know about Ramadan.
What exactly is Ramadan?
This is a holy month for Muslims. As one of my Muslim friends simply put it,Ramadan is like any other month but it is the most sacred of them all. Why? These words of the Prophet Mohammed offer some more explanation, "When the month of Ramadan starts, the gates of heaven are opened and the gates of Hell are closed and the devils are chained."
Thus, a lot of emphasis is placed on fasting, prayer, studying the Qu'ran, and charity in order to improve one's relationship with God. Muslims get to celebrate after this month of spiritual discipline. After Ramadan, Muslims have a three-day celebration called Eid al-Fitr,also known as "the Festival of the Breaking of the Fast." As the name implies, there is a lot of food, presents with friends and family.
Why is there always some debate about the exact date for Ramadan?
I always wondered why the exact day Ramadan starts changes every day. I guess I am not the only since "Ramadan start date" is one of the most-searched phrases now.
There are reasons for this, but what I understand is that the holy month does not start until there are reports of moon sightings. Once, the new moon is sighted, Ramadan begins.
This is often backed with this, "I heard Allah's Apostle saying, "When you see the crescent (of the month of Ramadan), start fasting, and when you see the crescent (of the month of Shawwal), stop fasting; and if the sky is overcast (and you can't see It) then regard the crescent (month) of Ramadan (as of 30 days)". (Hadith 1:1)
Is it compulsory to fast?
Fasting is one of the five pillars or duties of Islam. So all Muslims are expected to fast. However, there are certain groups of people that qualify for exemption. People that are ill, pregnant or nursing, menstruating, or traveling, young children and the elderly do not have fast.
During Ramadan, Muslims do not only abstain from food and liquids, which is the general idea of fasting, they also fast from smoking, engaging in any sexual activity, chewing gum, jealousy, anger (and other forms of negativity), swearing, complaining, and gossiping. Some people choose to also abstain from listening to music and watching television.
The whole point of this is to remove things that distract you from God, work on your spiritual discipline and basically better your relationship with God.
How does Ramadan work?
During this whole month, Muslims have their first meal before dawn. This is followed by the morning prayer. After that, Muslims are expected to go about their daily business, without food or drink. Normal duties continue until the evening call to prayer is finally made. Then Muslims break their fast with a light meal called an iftar(meaning "breakfast"), before performing the evening prayer, followed by a special Ramadan prayer.
After this, there is a larger meal, often shared with family and friends. Once the meal is over, everyone goes to bed, before waking up and starting all over again.
How can I help my Muslim friends?
There are some Muslim countries, where it is a crime to eat and drink in public during Ramadan if you're not a Muslim. Thankfully, Nigeria is not like that. Still, it does not hurt to be respectful towards our Muslim friends, colleagues or family. There have been cases of non-Muslims fasting along.
I recommend doing what you would want others to do to you. You would not want someone eating something worth salivating over in your presence while you are fasting. So, maybe eat in the kitchen, rather than at your desk where your Muslim colleague can see. This might make things a little easier for people fasting.
Avoid tempting them by offering a bite or a sip of what you are having. Simply, try being considerate.