By Kayed Khalil
FRAMINGHAM – As a Palestinian Muslim, growing up in Shatila refugee camp located in Beirut Lebanon, Ramadan was a month we looked forward to every year. I loved how our community would get together and fast every day and then break the fast at sunset with families and friends.
Growing up in a refugee camp was hard and tough as you can imagine, but during the month of Ramadan, even as a child, I felt the love from many people that I didn’t feel during the rest of the year.
It reminds me of how other religious groups must feel around their holidays, somehow people become more loving, forgiving and tolerant with each other. I remember as a child thinking to myself, why people don’t remain that nice during the rest of the year?
Even today as an adult, I still wonder why we behave a certain way at certain times of the year and then where does this positivity recede to?
What is Ramadan?
What does it mean to Muslims all over the world?
Why does the Muslim Community fast, from sun up to sun down during the month of Ramadan?
How is it celebrated every day?
How is it celebrated at the end of the month of Ramadan?
Well, let me start by saying that Ramadan is the name of the 9th month of the Muslim lunar calendar. The Muslim calendar is different than the solar calendar.
The Muslim year is a sequence of 12 lunar months totaling 354 days, so that 33 Muslim lunar years equates to about 32 solar years.
The Muslim calendar year is shorter than the solar year by approximately eleven days. Consequently, the month of Ramadan sometimes falls in the heat of the summer months, as in recent years making the burden of the fast harder and perhaps the sense of fulfillment greater.
Every year Ramadan begins 11 days earlier than the year before. In 1999 Ramadan was from Dec. 9th-Jan. 7th. In 2000 it was from Nov. 27th-Dec. 25th, the last day of Ramadan fell on Christmas. In 2014 it was from June
28th-July 27th and this year 2019, it will be from May 5th-June 3rd.
A religious committee in each Muslim country is responsible for watching for the hilal (crescent) moon. At the first sight of the hilal, they announce the beginning of the fast, the word is then transferred to all the cities, and
people can hear cannon booms and drumbeats that make the public announcement. In addition, with the advent of the internet, I personally check there where a calendar with times to fast is available to me based on where I live.
As a child growing up I remember , a man would volunteer to wake the families in my neighborhood very early in the morning by beating his drum and knocking on doors to rise and eat before dawn, this is called suhur, our
family would wake up in order to eat and drink before the fast would begin for the day. We would stop eating when the darkness of the night disappeared and was replaced with the light of the dawn, as it states in the Quran: “so much of the dawn appears that a white thread may be distinguished from a black one.”
During this month many Muslims residing in America and around the world look forward to participating in a month-long daytime fast. Muslims believe that Ramadan is the holiest month of the year, because it is the month in which the Quran was revealed to the prophet Mohammed.
Fasting during the blessed month of Ramadan is more worthy than fasting at any other time. Referring to Ramadan, the Quran says, “O people, a blessed month is coming near with one night better than 1,000 months.”
Whoever is in good health during Ramadan is required to fast the entire month; and whoever is sick or on a journey shall fast the number of days missed at a later date. Children below the age of puberty, the aged and
pregnant women are exempt.
Ramadan is a month of reflection, mercy and kindness where most people answer negative with positive, hate with love and try very hard to be better people during this month, more than any other time during the year.
My desire is that we must continue to strive all year long to be better people, we must be reminded that we do not need to have a religious holiday to be nice and kind.
Muslims believe that during Ramadan, the soul is purified and the body is cleansed, and that’s probably why most Muslims try very hard to choose to be kind and stay in the loving more than any other time during the year. This may be why people aren’t nicer during the rest of the year.
Perhaps one of the lessons is to carry this love and patience throughout the rest of the year. The month of Ramadan is not just a month of abstinence, it also has the social virtue of creating new bonds of understanding between all classes of people.
Fasting in Ramadan is a very demanding spiritual discipline and it increases our awareness of one’s dependence on food and essential similarity with other human beings. Ramadan is a time of serious reflection but not in a sad and gloomy way.
The fast, practiced by rich and poor alike, reminds the more fortunate members of society, the pain of hunger that the poor suffer and struggles with on a daily basis. Sadly for the less fortunate Muslims, Ramadan is just a continuation of the rest of the year.
Even though Ramadan is a month of charity, which is clear during the month of Ramadan where families throughout the Muslim world donate money to charities that help the poor or offer to host breaking of the fast dinner at the mosque to anyone who might not have families to break the fast with, but still after Ramadan the poor go back to struggling with the pain of hunger, which bothers me every year, but this is a global problem and just a Ramadan problem that needs to be addressed.
Islam has been influenced by concepts of preceding religions. In fasting, as well as in other concepts, Islam built upon Judaism and Christianity. Fasting was developed from the Christian idea of Lent and the Judaic idea of the
Day of Atonement.
Islam regards fasting as a means of achieving spiritual, moral, and physical discipline of the highest order. Seeking to please God through moral living is required; Muslims perform acts of kindness and charity, as well as depriving themselves of food and water.
Imagine each one of us during the month of Ramadan committing one act of kindness every day and then imagine continuing to do just one act of kindness every day after that, maybe we can improve this world of ours for all of us.
At sunset, the Muslims traditionally begin dinner with a bowl of soup or apricot juice or a date, and then they eat a full meal.
Ramadan nights are joyful times. After dinner, relatives and friends visit. Stories are told and children play games. I have loving fond memories of Ramadan nights growing up. People greet each other by saying Ramadan Karim (Ramadan is generous) and people respond by saying, Allahu akram (God is the most generous).
As happy as people get at the end of each daily celebration at sunset by breaking the fast and eating a variety of delicious food with their families, happiness becomes multiplied when the month of fasting is finally completed and Eid Al-Fitr (Festival of Breaking the Fast) is celebrated, people greet each other by saying Eid Mubarak. The most beautiful dishes are served during Eid Al-Fitr where relatives and friends come together to enjoy. These colorful Eid celebrations are the highpoint of the sense of fulfillment symbolizing a month of fasting and hardships. I believe that learning to share and celebrate with each other is what this world needs, not just around the holidays but throughout the year. Being kind and loving is free and it makes this world a better place.
It is so easy to focus on all of the negativity that is going on in the world where horrific acts of terrorism are committed and innocent people are gunned down in mosques, temples or churches.
We must stand together and focus on the positivity and kindness that is present in this world, because somehow as human beings, it is easy for us to ignore or minimize the goodness. Just like we should never give into fear and darkness, because only light, love, and kindness can illuminate darkness and extinguish the hate. We should continue to reach out so we can match love with hate. The torch of goodness, peace, love, kindness, understanding, diversity and tolerance are still alive and should never be ignored. There are still a lot of good people in this world that continue to stand up for one another.
A couple of weeks ago, Christians and Jews celebrated Easter and Passover and I hope there were Muslims who celebrated with their Christian and Jewish friends. Always choose the loving and celebrate with each other. We might have different cultural or religious traditions, we may look different or act different from each other but underneath the exterior, we are all human beings. We must force ourselves to remember that we have so
much in common. I am committed to my belief that we honor and celebrate each other’s way of living in order to heal this world we share, not just around holidays but throughout the year. Please join us on May 6 to celebrate this Holy month of Ramadan.
Here is to our humanity!
Ramadan Karim and peace be with you.
Kayed Khalil lives in Framingham