Ramadan explained: Why Muslims fast at this time

October 14, 2006|by Stanley Niamatali

Last Monday, I was in TJ Max with my 3-year-old son when I decided to get some marzipan. As I walked with him to the car, I opened the package and offered him one of the colorful confections and was ready to try one, two or three when I realized I was fasting. This is the month of Ramadan - the month where Muslims fast between dawn and sunrise.

As I drove home, I realized it is simple to live life without having to abstain from food and drink. However, I felt a great satisfaction in my hunger because I was fasting not only for Allah, the Giver of Life and Master of the Day of Judgment, but for myself.

This month of Ramadan offers a shield against our weaker self. I and other Muslims refrain from the pleasures of this world because we believe in Allah, the Everlasting. We make a conscious effort to control our physical and emotional needs. At sunset, after we have broken our fast, many of us go to the mosque.


In the mosque, we pray and confirm our belief in the Hereafter as we recite the words of Allah, the Source of Peace, as they were revealed to Prophet Mohammed, and preserved in the Holy Qur'an.

Most of the Qur'an was revealed during the month of Ramadan. By reciting the Qur'an, we enter that sacred time as we link ourselves through generations in the same actions of worship and remembrance. And while this ritual is a requisite for Ramadan, this month is more than a ritual. It is grounded in actions that involve fasting and the paying of Zakah.

Zakah may be interpreted as the purifying dues of our earnings and are of two types. The first is approximately $13 for each member of a household if the family can afford the payment. The second type of Zakah is the equivalent of 2 1/2 percent of our savings and includes 2 percent of the value of our jewelry.

Zakah is to be distributed to the needy. It is important to note that Zakah is not alms that are being given to the poor. Zakah rightfully belongs to the needy.

This concept frees the beneficiaries from being beholden to anyone other than Allah, the Lord of Majesty and Bounty. It is important that Zakah be paid before the end of Ramadan for its distribution is one of the first acts that follow celebration of Eid al-Fitr, a day Muslims are forbidden to fast.

Eid al-Fitr is observed by a prayer and sermon where Muslims leave their work and businesses to show that this day is more important than any of our worldly endeavors. It does not end with a celebration of indulgence.

And even though this month may be regarded as austere, Eid al-Fitr may be celebrated with music. I look forward to these days when we will celebrate and count the blessings of Allah, the Appreciative, whose bounty and mercy is for all mankind.

Stanley Niamatali is a professor at Montgomery College, lives in Martinsburg, W.Va., and is a member of the Islamic Center of Southern Maryland.

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