By Roy Oksnevad
June 18 through July 17 marks the time of fasting during the month of Ramadan for the Muslim world this calendar year. Since the Islamic calendar follows the lunar calendar which is shorter than the solar calendar, Ramadan can fall during the hottest and longest days of the calendar year or the coldest and shortest days of the calendar year. Ramadan is a 30-day fast from dawn to sunset. The fast is from food, drink, and sex during the day, but these are permissible at night. Ramadan’s month-long fast ends with one of two major holidays in the Islamic calendar—Eid al–Fitr. It is a joyous three-day celebration of breaking the fast. People give gifts, put on new clothes and celebrate with family and friends.
The top 10 popular messages Muslims may use with family and friends in English are:
1. Read in abundance the Holy Quran
Abstain from food, drink, and cohabitation
Maintain your nightly trips to Masjid for Taraweeh
Absolve yourself from Hellfire through seeking forgiveness
Deeds of good, never too many to have
Attempt to find and utilize the Night of Power in the odd nights of the last 10
Never return to the sins you have turned your back on in this month
2. Ramadan month unites everyone, its teachings give us happiness and give satisfaction when we help others, and rewards which we receive are bountiful, Ramadan Mubarak.
3. A beautiful greeting wishing that your family receive bountiful blessing and peace throughout the Ramadan month.
4. This holy month of the Qur’an. Pray that you be blessed and freed from the clutches of Satan. Ask Allah for forgiveness and do good deeds.
5. May the Ramadan bring you peace and prosperity, good health and wealth, and brighten your life forever.
6. The holy month starts when the crescent new moon is visible. May this Ramadan month bring you bountiful joy and happiness and helps you gain rich rewards on Judgment Day.
7. Ramadan is the (month) in which was sent down the Qur’an, as a guide to mankind, also clear (signs) for guidance and judgment (between right and wrong).
8. Prophet said: “Whoever stood for the prayers in the night of Qadr out of sincere faith and hoping for a reward from Allah, then all his previous sins will be forgiven.”
9. May the spirit of Ramadan illuminate the world and show us the way to peace and harmony.
10. Once again the time has come to repent for the sins we’ve committed, for all the wrong doing we’ve done. Wish you a blessed Ramadan!1
To better understand Ramadan, I went to some of the books Muslims have given me to explain Islam and its practices. Here is a summary of what I found in these books:
Ramadan teaches believers patience and self-control and reminds them of millions of human beings who lack adequate food. It is accompanied by increased efforts toward good manners and righteous deeds.
Motivation for abstaining from food and drink is, “faith in God and the fear of Him and the Day of Judgement.… During Ramadan evil conceals itself while good comes to the fore and the whole atmosphere is filled with piety and purity.” Only the worst can be expected from hypocrites who fail to fast.
“Islam assigned two purposes to fasting: self-discipline and commiseration with the hungry of the earth.… Patience, forbearance, perseverance, steadfastness in suffering and privation—these are the qualities Islam seeks to cultivate through fasting.” It is believed that fasting will “fortify the individual against temptation and make one’s moral house impregnable.”
Twelve benefits of fasting: 1) it teaches sincere love; 2) it equips mankind with a creative sense of hope, an optimistic outlook on life; 3) it imbues mankind with a genuine virtue of effective devotion, honest dedication, and closeness to God; 4) it cultivates a vigilant and sound conscience; 5) it inculcates patience and unselfishness; 6) it is a lesson in applied moderation and willpower; 7) it provides a transparent soul; 8) it shows a new way of wise saving and sound budgeting; 9) it enables mankind to master the art of mature adaptability; 10) it grounds in discipline and healthy survival; 11) it originates in mankind the real spirit of social belonging; 12) it is a godly prescription for self-assurance and self-control, for maintenance of human dignity and freedom, for victory and peace. After these twelve glorious benefits of fasting, Abdulati admits that this picture is utopian. He states, “Muslims have lived in and enjoyed a utopia in a certain epoch of their history. The realization of that utopia was a unique phenomenon in the history of man. We say unique, because no religion or social system other than Islam has ever been able to realize its ideals in reality.… But the utopia of Islam was realized and put into practice and production at full capacity.” The reason he gives for Islam failing to establish this utopia nowadays is “many Muslim, unfortunately for them, do not observe the fast or, at best, adopt an attitude of indifference to it.”
As Muslims have dispersed around the world, they find themselves in places that make foundational prescribed rituals based on the timing of the sun difficult to follow. This directly affects two pillars of Islam: Prayer (Salah) and fasting (Ramadan). Salah has five set prayer times: 1) al fajr is supposed to be before sunrise; 2) al zuhr offered just after the sun’s zenith; 3) al ‘asr two hours before sunset; 4) al maghrib is supposed to be offered after sunset; 5) al ‘isha’ is supposed to be offered one hour and thirty minutes after sunset. Fasting is to start before the break of dawn and ends immediately after sunset. But what do Muslims do when they find themselves north of the 55th parallel or in the Arctic Circle which is the 66th parallel and above where the sun does not rise or set during certain parts of the year?
Sheikh Dr. Usama Hasan of the Quillian Foundation has advocated that devotees in the UK, which is at the 55th parallel, should follow the timings observed in Mecca, where fasting hours last around 12 to 13 hours a day. “This has included those new to the practice of fasting, elderly and middle-aged people, who wish to fast but simply cannot manage the very long days. Since last year, I’ve heard reports of such people in hospital, as well as of children falling seriously ill, due to fasting more than 18 hours per day,” he added. The same article states that, “Muslims in the Arctic Circle were already planning to frame a new set of rules for their Ramadan fasting as the region will have sunshine for 24 hours a day.”
The rhetoric I hear from Islamic presentations and the books written by Muslims about Islam agree that Islam is unique with having no particular person or people or country. They claim that it is not a product of any human mind and is a universal religion for all people in all places and all times. Yet, when Muslims find themselves outside the orb of the equator in its Arabian beginnings, two foundational pillars of Islam suffer. Though Islamic leaders like Sheikh Dr. Usama Hasan are seeking to modify Islamic practices to accommodate the reality of living in places where the sun is not consistent in its rising and setting, it calls into question the very universality of Islam.
Reading the Muslim sources on fasting reflects a longing of what they hope to see and not the reality of what is happening when they fast. The Bible’s teaching on fasting is not about form such as when to fast; it only says when you fast. The Bible does not claim exaggerated benefits of fasting, only that when fasting properly while calling out to God he will answer. In Isaiah 58, God rebukes the people for fasting hypocritically and defines the kind of fast God desires. In Matthew 6:16-18, Jesus warns against fasting for show and instructs the faithful to fast before God and not others. Ramadan is a special time in the life of most Muslims. It is a perfect time to give a Ramadan card with the verses from Isaiah 58 and Matthew 6 in it. At the end of Ramadan is the festival of Eid al–Fitr in which gifts are given. It is a great time to give a Jesus DVD or a Bible as a gift at the festival.