ALL Malaysians, regardless of ethnicity or religious beliefs, know well the importance of the month of Ramadan. Because we live side by side, our cultural and religious practices are familiar to one another. Two simple observations come to mind in relation to Ramadan – that Muslims will fast and some restaurants will be closed during the day.
Ramadan is the ninth month in the Islamic (lunar) calendar. The month is significant to Muslims because it was during Ramadan that the Quran was descended upon and revealed to Prophet Muhammad. Ramadan is also when Muslims are obliged to fast.
The name comes from the Arabic word that means heat or drought. Thus, Ramadan connotes overcoming the hardship of daily abstinence from consuming food and water as well as sexual intimacy from dawn till dusk throughout the sacred month.
Fasting is prescribed for every mature, adult Muslim who is physically fit, sane and capable. The elderly, children, and those with health issues are exempted.
Verse 183 of the Quran enjoins Muslims: “O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that ye may (learn) self-restraint.” The verse thus establishes the obligation to fast so as to attain God-consciousness and taqwa (fear of Allah).
Muslims must engage in more self-reflection throughout the month so as to fully benefit from the blessings and wisdom of Ramadan. The month readily offers them invaluable lessons in faith, spirituality, awareness, unity, dignity, charity, justice and social engagement, and these will yield positive impact in the long run.
These values are manifested in many good deeds such as gathering at mosques to perform a special Tarawih congregational prayer every night only during Ramadan.
In a hadith narrated by Imam Bukhari, Allah’s Messenger said, “Whoever establishes prayers during the nights of Ramadan faithfully out of sincere faith and hoping to attain Allah’s rewards (not for showing off), all his past sins will be forgiven.”
Indeed, only in Ramadan is the Tarawih prayer performed. The Tarawih is performed after the Isyak (Night) Prayer for either eight rakaats (cycles) or 20. It is the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad, which means he used to perform the prayer and Muslims are encouraged to do likewise.
The gathering for the prayer brings people from all walks of life together in the neighbourhood to suraus or mosques, thus fostering good social wellbeing.
Another good deed in Ramadan is charity. The Quran mentions such a deed in verse 18 of the surah al-Hadid: “For those who give in charity, men and women, and loan to Allah a beautiful loan, it shall be increased manifold (to their credit), and they shall have (besides) a liberal reward.”
What is more, the reward for doing charity during Ramadan is multiplied most generously by Allah. Prophet Muhammad said: “Allah gives this reward even to those who give a sip of milk to a fasting man.”
This indeed shows the significance of charity in all its forms. Those who perform acts of charity during Ramadan are following in the footsteps of Prophet Muhammad.
Muslims should also consider the virtue of welcoming their non-Muslim friends for the breaking of fast. This again forges good relationships in our multi-ethnic society. Nothing can go wrong when people are served good food to be enjoyed together.
In verse 49 of surah al-Hujurat, Allah intones: “O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other.”
Islamic teachings convey the message that Muslims should respect every ideology, religion, culture and community. Since diversity is the law of nature created by God for us to benefit from, Muslims should get to know others regardless of race and religion. Such an effort is also a test in their lives whereby we will all eventually be answerable to Him alone, the Al-Mighty, on the Day of Judgement.
Indeed, in Islam, fasting is not merely a ritual. Rather, it is to attain righteousness or taqwa. Hence, self-reflection is a must in the month of Ramadan.
Fasting is not only the simple abstinence from food and drink and sexual intimacy. It is more about applying self-restraint from evil thoughts and actions, eventually bringing spiritual and physical goodness to the individual and society.
Mohamad A’sim Ismail is a research officer with the Centre for the Study of Syariah, Law and Politics, Institute of Islamic Understanding Malaysia (Ikim). The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.