Eid Mubarak!

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Ramadan is one of the main religious celebrations observed by the Muslims not only in Sri Lanka but around the globe as well. In literal terms, ‘Ramadan’ (or Ramazan, Ramzan, Ramadhan, or Ramathan) means the ninth month of the Islamic calendar which is based on the movement of the moon. During the month of Ramadan the Muslims around the world engage in the month of fasting which normally lasts 29 to 30 days, from one sighting of the crescent moon to the next. 

Ramadan is regarded as one of the ‘Five Pillars of Islam’ – declaration of faith, prayer, almsgiving, fasting, and pilgrimage. It is also a time of spiritual reflection, self-improvement, and heightened devotion. One of the key practices during Ramadan is fasting. Apart from the children, the elderly, the sick, those who are on their period, breastfeeding mothers, and pregnant women everyone else actively take part in fasting during the month of Ramadan.

The fasting (Sawm) begins at the dawn and ends with the sunset. Apart from consuming food and beverages during the fasting time, Muslims also refrain from sexual activities as well as sinful speech and behaviour. The purpose of fasting is to cleanse the body and the soul by freeing it from harmful impurities. As fasting redirects the observers from worldly activities it paves the way to self-discipline, self-control, sacrifice, and empathy. It also helps in instilling compassion towards the less-fortunate – the poor who can’t afford to have three good meals a day – since fasting allows the observers to walk a mile in the shoes of the less fortunate.

Each day before dawn, Muslims enjoy a pre-fast meal called Suhoor, followed by the first prayer of the day, Fajr. Throughout the day till the sunset the fasting is continued and at sunset, the observers break fast with Iftar – the evening meal to break fast – with dates, commemorating Prophet Muhammad’s practice of breaking fast with three dates. This is followed by Maghrib – the fourth of the five daily prayers – and the main meal of the day is served afterwards.

Social gatherings and consuming food in buffet style is common at Iftar while giving much importance to the traditional Islamic food items. Over the years Iftar has developed into large social gatherings which accommodate hundreds and thousands of people every night. This can be distinctly witnessed in Islamic countries, in the Middle East in particular. Large daily social gatherings at Iftar can also be seen in Sri Lanka, in the areas where a Muslim majority lives.

Muslims also engage in charity or almsgiving (Zakat) during the month of Ramadan. In many parts of the world, this practice is obligatory as it is one of the Five Pillars of Islam. Muslims believe that good deeds such as charity and almsgiving performed during the holy month of Ramadan are rewarded more handsomely that during any other time of the year, so they tend to actively take part in Zakat, donating larger portions – or sometimes even all – of food and money.

During Ramadan night prayers (Taraweeh) are also performed but contrary to the popular belief, these night prayers aren’t compulsory.

At the end of the month of Ramadan the Muslims celebrate Eid-ul-Fitr, marking the end of the fasting month of Ramadan. Eid-ul-Fitr is the earlier of the two main holidays celebrated in Islam, the other being Eid-ul-Adha. Eid-ul-Fitr falls on the first day of Shawwal – the 10th month in the Islamic calendar – and does not fall on the same day every year on the common Gregorian calendar. Eid-ul-Fitr begins at the sunset on the night of the first sighting on the crescent moon. If the moon is not observed immediately after the 29th day of the previous lunar month (mainly due to the night sky being too cloudy or too bright due to artificial lights) the holiday is observed the following day. It is forbidden to fast during the day of Eid and special prayers are dedicated for this day.

Fasting is synonymous with the month of Ramadan as well as the celebration of Eid-ul-Fitr. While many might think fasting the entire day for almost a month is extreme and dangerous, there are quite a few known health benefits of Ramadan fasting. Researchers have found that Ramadan fasting can increase insulin sensitivity and reduce insulin resistance. It also helps in maintaining a perfect BMI (Body-Mass Index) and also helps to reduce the risk of having heart diseases. However, scientists also point out that consuming a large amount of food every day at Iftar can lead to negative health effects.

(Translated by Sanuj Hathurusinghe) 

By Chandana Ranaweera