Behind the Veil: Ramadan, Blessed Month Revealed

Published: Mon 10 Dec 2001 09:28 AM
Behind the Veil:
Behind the Veil Of Saudi Arabia
Ramadan the Blessed Month Revealed
By Aesha Lorenz Al-Saeed
Ramadan is a special month to between seven to ten million Muslims in the United States, and millions more Muslims worldwide. It is known as the month of worship, and indeed Muslims increase their worship greatly during this month. To fast in Ramadan, which is required by every adult Muslim, who is not ill, is to perform and demonstrate part of a believer’s faith in God (or “Allah” in Arabic.) This month is looked forward to and anticipated in most homes, and reinforces the unity of mankind and brotherhood in-group acts of worship.
God told us in the Holy Quran to fast for the month to become closer to Him. Most of the prophets also fasted, such as Jesus, Moses and Abraham. As a fasting person who exercises control over his physical desires, besides taking reward from God for doing so, one also feels accomplishment at making the body bend to human willpower, and to demonstrate that his will is stronger than the mere physical body. One feels proud to have made his body submit and to ignore base physical desires.
Besides giving up food and liquid from sunrise to sunset, a Muslim also abstains from smoking during those hours, and spousal physical relations. At night we are allowed to refortify our bodies.
During fasting all our senses are heightened, and one really feels how the deprived and less fortunate feel and try to exist. It makes one really appreciate ones blessings when one breaks the fast gently with dates or water, soup, and usually sumbusa (meat or vegetable triangle shaped pastries,) usually served on special Ramadan dishes.
A few hours before the breaking of the fast at sunset, the city begins to come more alive and the pace quickens. Men are bringing home to their families extra sumbusas, Ramadan sweets, or juices made especially in Ramadan. Roads are clogged with traffic, people are trying to hurry home for their break-fasts, and roadside stalls appear for the few hour time period to provide extra tasty morsels to make the breakfast interesting and special.
Physically fasting this way strengthens and is beneficial to the digestive system. After this light meal, one prays the sunset prayer, which may be prayed at home with the family, with the father leading, or by going to the mosque. Families donate food to the mosque for bachelor workers and people without family because there is a blessing in eating together. Afterward it is common to take a rest with the family, such as watching a special television comedy show that is featured only in Ramadan together.
After the night prayer is finished, which is a few hours after the sunset prayer, people often go out shopping for items to celebrate the holiday that starts after Ramadan finishes. When the new moon appears it shows the end of the Ramadan month, and the next day will be the Eed holiday.
If the moon is not observed yet, the fasting continues for one more day. All the Islamic months are moon months, so are one or two days shorter than western months, with the year two weeks shorter yearly, meaning every few years Ramadan will change the season that it comes in, making it easier for new Muslims and children to try their hand at fasting in certain seasons.
The holiday after Ramadan is finished is call “Eed” and Prophet Muhammed told us that every Muslim should wear a new outfit of clothes inside and out to celebrate Eed, so women and families are often out buying beforehand. Shop keepers often stock the best and newest merchandise in Ramadan, and the prices reflect this. In Saudi Arabia quite often shops stay open until two or three o’clock in the morning to assist shoppers in making their purchases. Daytime work hours are also shortened, catering to the fasting person.
Usually a Muslim tries to complete reading the entire Quran in this month, since we are told that in Ramadan especially the heavens are open, the devil is tied from his most evil attempts, and Allah then has most mercy for mankind. If possible Muslims (the word literally means “the submitters” as in who submits to the will of God,) visit the holy cities of Medina and Mecca which contains the Ka’aba built by Prophet Abraham and his son Ishmael, the oldest temple to God in the world.
Since our senses are heightened from fasting, we feel God/Allah is watching us even more than usual, so a Muslim gives more charity and tries to increase his good deeds, if only a charitable word, as much as possible, while controlling his tongue from evil talk, his hands from evil deeds, his eyes from evil sights, and his mind from evil thoughts. The feeling of becoming a part of Ramadan really defies description, and it is a challenge to do so.
Parents encourage small children to fast for an hour or two, praising them for achieving their goals, while progressing to more time when they have learned patience and self control as they grow spiritually and physically. It is an important milestone when finally one completes the whole fasting month, and it is often celebrated by giving the child a special gift, money, or a cake.
When on the last night of Ramadan and the new moon is announced, believers try to sleep early- with little success- or some stay awake for the rest of the night to be certain they are awake the next morning to attend the big group Eed prayer, while wearing the new Eed garments.
The unity and equality of Islam is demonstrated again in the big group prayer as thousands of Muslims bow and prostrate together at one time to their Lord and Creator of the Universe.
(Aesha Lorenz Al-Saeed is an Oregonian American married to a Saudi who converted to Islam in l977 and has lived in Saudi Arabia since l985.)

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