Alnoor Gova of the UBC Faculty of Education is an expert on the celebration of Ramadan, the Muslim celebration of the ninth month of the Islamic calendar where in which the Quran was revealed. One of the Five Pillars of Islam is to fast during daylight hours of dawn to dusk during the month of Ramadan.
“Ramadan was the month of the first revelation of the Quran to Muhammad. Fasting commences on the visual sighting of the first crescent moon after the new moon lasts the month, from sunrise to sunset,” Gova explains. “Fasting in Islam like in other monotheistic traditions, such as Lent, is prescribed and obligatory.”
Sacrifice for spirituality
Fasting does not only mean to abstain from food or drink during Ramadan. Many acts are given up during this holy month, such as smoking, intercourse, insulting, backbiting, cursing, lying, lust, and generally all bad habits.
“For example fasting of the tongue, the eyes, hands, ears, and ill thoughts typically involves offering more salat (supplication and prayers), reading and understanding the Quran cover to cover and performing dhikr, a form of prayer.” says Gova.
Seif Mansour, a Muslim family man with personal feedback regarding Ramadan explains when fasting is not required.
“Muslims that can not perform the ritual of fasting, due to chronic illnesses, or a hard and tough work environment would be required instead of fasting to donate money that is equivalent to one meal to feed poor or needy people, regardless of their religion background.”
When Ramadan reaches a close, the tradition does not. Days of Eid are celebrated at the end of the month of fasting.
“Muslims celebrate this end by days of Eid, where Muslims offer food, and sweets to all people that visit their home regardless of their religion,” adds Mansour.
Personal and philanthropic priorities
During the time of Ramadan Muslims make an effort to reach out to non-muslims, in an act to better the general community.
“Generally there is more attention and action to the disadvantaged sectors of society. For example, in Vancouver there is a tradition of Muslims feeding the hungry at the Carnegie Community Centre,” says Gova.
“Iftar dinners, where Muslims break their fast is often held together with neighbours, friends, and colleagues, Muslim and non-Muslim alike,” Ramadan expert Armaan Kassam explains. “It’s a chance for Muslims to reach out to, build relationships, and celebrate with their communities at large.”
For Muslims in Vancouver and all across Canada, it is evident that charity is a central aspect of Ramadan, as many Islamic groups work with philanthropic groups in an effort to give back to their communities.
“Ramadan has surrounding it a culture of celebration,” says Kassam. “The blessed nature of this month is met as an opportunity for increased spiritual vigour, whereby Muslims re-focus and re-prioritize faith in their lives through a variety of religious observances.”
Over time, the tradition of Ramadan has changed little. However, in different area’s where Ramadan is celebrated unique attributes are adapted by the celebration. “Traditional foods and festivities are a major part of Ramadan that change from location to location,” says Kassam.
A modern form of unity
The technological advances of today’s world also have played a role in the expansion of the festivities. “In today’s age, our interconnectivity has generated a sense of solidarity and community amongst Muslims across the globe that was previously impossible,” Kassam explains.
“Each group has it’s own unique way of practicing this ritual,” adds Mansour.
This interconnectivity gives many Muslims opportunity to connect with each other and incorporate their personal practices and traditions with regards to Ramadan.
Ramadan strengthens relationships, not only personal relationships with god, but also relationships among communities.
“Ramadan has a huge impact on the individual, by changing daily habits and enforcing beliefs,” says Mansour, “for communities Ramadan strengthens the relationships within, because of mosques and family organized group fasting break meals, which helps to build a sense of unity among the group.”
By sharing the endeavor of fasting, Muslim communities share a spiritual bond through the struggle.
“Ramadan is a time to really ‘polish the soul’, providing a time where believers can prioritize their spiritual lives and make a concerted effort to truly make faith a part of their lives,” says Kassam.
“The prime purpose of Ramadan is to practice self restraint through behaviour introspection and modification, self discipline and living a pious and spiritually uplifting life.” Says Gova. “This rigour of transformation, both personal and social, of God consciousness is hoped to be sustained thought the rest of the year producing greater empathy and social consciousness towards the plight of the less fortunate. Ramadan aid is also a time for giving and charity.”
This year Ramadan began June 18, and ends on the evening of July 17.