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Understanding Ramadan: The Significance and Practices

Understanding Ramadan: The Significance and Practices

“The month of Ramaḍān [is that] in which was revealed the Qur’ān, a guidance for the people and clear proofs of guidance and criterion. So whoever sights [the crescent of] the month, let him fast it; and whoever is ill or on a journey - then an equal number of other days. Allāh intends for you ease and does not intend for you hardship and [wants] for you to complete the period and to glorify Allāh for that [to] which He has guided you; and perhaps you will be grateful.”

—Qur’an 2:185 (Saheeh International)

They say that in ancient times, when the months were first given their names, the Arabs named the ninth month of the calendar, “Ramadan,” from the Arabic verb “r-m-d,” which means “to become scorching hot.” This was because each month was given a name related to the season that it was in—and at the time of its naming, Ramadan took place during the desert summer. 

These are just lexical theories, but what did stick was that the ninth month of the lunar year continued to be called “Ramadan” after it was adopted by the Hijri/Islamic calendar. Moreover, Allah chose this month to reveal the first verses of the Qur’an to the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ as well as prescribe the obligatory fast (sawm) for Muslims in this month. That’s why some lexicographers say this month is called Ramadan; in it, the fasting person, because he must abstain from eating and drinking, feels the heat of his stomach intensify.

So, What is Ramadan?

In short, Ramadan is one of the holiest (if not, the holiest month) for Muslims. It consists of either 29 or 30 days (depending on moon sighting—we’ll get to that in a bit) in which Allah first revealed the Qur’an (the Holy Book for Muslims). Allah also commanded Muslims to fast the entire month. This doesn’t mean no eating for the entire month; it means abstaining from eating and drinking (not even water?! Yep - not even water) from a little bit before sunrise to sunset every day of the entire month. (Trust me, it sounds much harder than it actually is.) 

But it’s not just a physical fast. Muslims are also commanded to abstain from harmful speech, vulgar language, evil thoughts, etc. during the month and focus on collecting good deeds through sincere acts of worship. That’s why some people say that this month of the year is named “Ramadan,” because its effect is as though it “burns” the fasting person’s sins (in other words, due to his fasting, the sins of the believer are expiated).

In addition to fasting, there’s another act of worship that is also unique to the month of Ramadan: the tarawih prayers. This is a special prayer that Muslims pray at night - after the last obligatory prayer. It consists of 20 cycles of prayers (i.e., rak’at) and is prayed in a mosque in congregation. It is a beautiful way for Muslims to unite their hearts and build community in the month of Ramadan. 

In Ramadan, Muslims are encouraged to contemplate their blessings and share them with those who are needy. In this month, it’s important to give charity and recommended to give zakat (alms-tax).

For more information on Ramadan, see these websites:

  3. What is Ramadan for Kids

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