SINGAPORE – Ramadan represents the ninth month in the Islamic lunar calendar and is marked by first sight of the crescent moon. The lunar calendar is different from the Gregorian calendar which is determined by the sun. Thus, pushing forward Ramadan each year by approximately eleven days.
Physically healthy muslims will fast from sunrise to sunset for the whole of Ramadan as a practice of abstinence. Muslims exempted from fasting include: the ill, young children, women having their period and those who are travelling long distances between places. Those unable to fast are encouraged to compensate for it before the next Ramadan comes around.
Before dawn, it is encouraged that a morning meal, suhoor, is consumed to sustain the body for the rest of the day. High-protein and caloric foods are usually eaten by Muslims during suhoor. It is believed Prophet Muhammad himself consumed dates and a glass of water for his morning meal.
As dawn breaks, Muslims will observe their fast for the day and go about their normal daily routine.
Apart from practising abstinence, acts of kindness and compassion are encouraged during the holy month. It is believed Muslims will receive greater blessings for good deeds accomplished during Ramadan. This is in addition to strengthening one’s own pillars of Islam.
The call for evening prayers, maghrib, signals the time to break fast, also known as iftar. For some, feasts are prepared while for others a simple meal is consumed before performing evening prayers. Usually, a date is consumed at the start of iftar.
However, many overlook the significance of fasting as they consume their meals. As Ramadan is the month to practice moderation and abstinence, over-eating or feasting is an act of overindulgence and gluttony. Furthermore, it weakens the reminder that there are others who are less fortunate and unable to consume sufficient food each day.
Later in the evening after iftar, Muslims will perform terawih prayers which are only performed during Ramadan. Many will gather in mosques to perform the prayers while others may perform it at home with their families or alone. These prayers are believed to shower blessings on the individual and deepen his or her relationship with God.
Apart from these practices, Ramadan is sacred as it is believed to mark an important time for Prophet Muhammad. Muslim scholars believe that the first verses of the Quran were revealed to Muhammad during the holy month.
In the Quran, it is written that “Ramadan is the (month) in which was sent down the Qur’an as a guide to mankind, also clear (Signs) for guidance and judgment”. It was revealed to Muhammad as he was in the Cave of Hira which is in Makkah. It is also believed that the first revelation of God was sent to Muhammad by Gabriel, the angel, on that night. This particular night was named Laylat al-Qadr, “The Night of Power”.
After Ramadan, Eid al-Fitri, better known as Hari Raya Aidilfitri, is celebrated to mark the end of fasting. The joyous celebrations may continue for the whole month of Syawal, the month after Ramadan. In Singapore, relatives visit each other during Hari Raya as a sign of gratitude and kinship. Similar to Chinese New Year, children will receive green packets from their elder relatives which were originally seen as acts of zakat, which is to offer some wealth to the needy.
In essence, the significance of fasting is multi-faceted and the act of it permeates one’s spirituality. It is also practised by followers of other religions such as Judaism and Orthodox Christianity. For Muslims, fasting is believed to bring them closer to one another and God. Fasting is, most importantly, a manifestation of jihad, which is to ‘to strive’ or ‘to struggle’ to perform God’s commands to one’s best ability.
For the Muslims in Singapore, try not to gorge down on every milkshake, rainbow burger or salted egg delicacy you see at the Geylang Serai bazaar. After all, less is more during Ramadan.