A few days ago, while I was browsing the web, I found a tumblr blog that re-published my magazine article on Ramadhan. I had uploaded that article in one of my blogs. I tried looking for my blog that had that article but I couldn’t find it. It was from my blogsome.com blog. Blogsome had closed shop some time ago. I was surprised that I hadn’t uploaded that article to my other blogs.
It was actually a rehash of another article which I wrote for the now defunct newspaper, The Philippine Post, in 2000. I’m doubly surprised that I hadn’t uploaded that newspaper article to my blogs either.
The tumblr blog is titled Self-Centered and appears to be owned by a young Moro studying at UST. It says:
“I was reading a couple of blogs ran by moro bloggers. And wow, they had a very polished english grammar, and the opinions stated in their blogs were very intelligent and educated. Here are some blogs worth looking at, especially if you’re a moro;
I was looking at Jamal Ashley’s blog. And saw a blog about the holy month of Ramadan. I was amazed by how detailed the blog was and how it really defined the meaning of Ramadan. To be honest, I find it hard explaining to my non-Muslim friends what Ramadan is. Most non-Muslims only know that Ramadan is a month of abstaining from food and water, and that this month is a month of hunger and torture. But in a Muslim’s perspective it’s not. So here’s the blog about the holy month of Ramadan taken from the blog of Jamal Ashley;”
My blog Reflections on the Bangsa Moro had the url jamalashley.blogsome.com. Unfortunately, blogsome closed shop so suddenly that I was not able to put up a mirror site.
The other blog – bangsamoro.wordpress.com – is an aggregator, of which I am one of the editors.
Since it’s Ramadhan again, I guess it is appropriate to upload this magazine article. It was published in Mr. & Ms. magazine about 10 years ago. I believe it is timeless.
In the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition, fasting is a special form of prayer. The Jews fast during the Day of Atonement. Fasting for them is a way to ask God’s forgiveness and blessings. On their way to Jerusalem from Babylon, the prophet Ezra ordered every Jew to fast: “Then I proclaimed a fast, there by the river of Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before God to petition from Him a safe journey for ourselves, our children and all our possessions.” (Ezra 8: 21). Some Jews fast twice a week – on Mondays and Thursdays.
The early Christian Church followed the Jewish practice but did it on Wednesdays and Fridays in honor of Christ’s arrest and crucifixion. Later, fasting was practiced during the Lenten Season. Saint Athanasius wrote: “Behold the efficacy of fasting! It cures sickness, dries the excessive humors of the body, drives out evil spirits, dispels wrongful thoughts, gives the spirit greater clarity, purifies the heart, sanctifies the body and at last leads the person to the throne of God.”
The Muslims also follow the Judeo-Christian tradition of fasting. Practically all Major Prophets fasted for forty days and nights. The Muslims are also commanded to fast but being ordinary mortals, they fast only for thirty days (from sunrise to sunset). The ninth month (Ramadhan) of the Islamic calendar is the month of Fasting. (This year, the first of Ramadhan falls on the 6th of June.)
During the month of Ramadhan (about thirty days), Muslims abstain from food, drinks, sex, gambling and all ungodly acts from dawn to dusk. Evenings are spent on eating, socializing and praying. The evening prayers are held after dinner. The faithful attempt to recite all the verses of the Qur’an within the month of Ramadhan.
OBJECTIVES OF FASTING
According to Traditions: “Narrated Abu Huraira: Allah’s Apostle 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.’” (Hadith : Sahih Bukhari 1.36) This and other sayings from the Hadeeth (Traditions) emphasize that Muslims should fast and pray not because they are forced to, or would like to gain other people’s recognition or any other reason (such as a way to reduce weight) but because they truly desire God’s mercy and blessings.
Fasting has many objectives. One is that for a certain period of the year, all Muslims would feel the same hunger — be they rich or poor, young or old. For a rich man used to having a full breakfast and a 4 to 6-course lunch, fasting would be an ordeal. It is also a very trying time for smokers and womanizers.
But the main purpose of fasting is remembrance — of God. God says in the Qur’an: “Fadhkuruni adhkurukum” (Remember Me and I will remember you).
In Muslim-dominated societies like the Arab countries, Pakistan and Indonesia, Ramadhan brings all the citizens closer together. The Ramadhan good cheer is upon everyone. Even the office hours are changed. In Saudi Arabia, the working hours for some offices during Ramadhan are from 6:00 AM to 2:00 PM with no lunch break.
And for the rich people, it is the time to share their wealth and give away their precious dollars or riyals.
TIME FOR GIVING ALMS
Once, when I was in Saudi Arabia, an Arab friend complained that after finishing the Ramadhan evening prayers, the fellow next to him handed him a suitcase full of money. The man requested him to give away the money as he was pressed for time and had to leave immediately. My friend was forced to stay in the mosque to give away the money to everyone who asked.
There was also a time during Ramadhan when my mother and her cousin’s wife went to the Masjid al-Haram, the Grand Mosque in Mecca. While waiting for the start of the evening prayers, a woman sat beside my “aunt” (actually, the wife of my mother’s cousin) and told her to vacate her place because the woman’s mistress – a princess – was going to sit there. Naturally, my mother and her cousin’s wife were incensed. My “aunt” told the woman that she would not budge because she was a princess, too. (She was also a governor of her province.) The woman was indignant but was forced to look for another place for her princess mistress.
After the prayers, the Arabian princess took out a big bag and started distributing money to the people around her. And the princess’s assistant came to my aunt — not to give her money – but to ask for her prayer carpet. She said it would be an honor to have a souvenir from a Mindanao princess.
For Muslim minorities, Ramadhan reminds them of their distinct identity. This feeling binds them even closer. Children, even those who don’t fast, usually love to eat with the adults as there is always an air of Thanksgiving every “break-fast” time. As a child, I remember Ramadhan as the time of eating dates, a very sweet fruit of the date-palm (phoenix dactylifera).
In the Western concept of time-keeping, the day in the solar calendar begins a minute after midnight or 00:01 hrs. In the Islamic lunar calendar, the “day” begins at sundown. This is most evident during Ramadhan when the community “wakes up” after sunset, the time for breakfast; i.e., breaking the fast.
Before breaking the fast, Muslims usually say a simple prayer that goes: “Oh Allah, I kept the fasting for Thy sake, and I break it with the food Thou hast provided.” Some families eat their dinner at sunset, while others prefer to take light meals first. Tables usually are filled with coffee, tea, bread, cheese, butter, pastries, fruits and the traditional Ramadhan fruit, the dates. It is customary for Muslims, especially the Arabs, to break the fast with dates and water. After the light meal comes the sunset prayer (Maghreb). Those who only had snacks earlier will then have their full dinner. After dinner, it will be time to go to the mosque for the long Ramadhan evening prayers.
In Muslim countries, the time to go for shopping is at about 10 pm, after the Ramadhan prayers. The cities and towns are usually teeming with people, all enjoying the good cheer after a day-long fast and evening prayers.
THE NIGHT OF POWER
According to the Qur’an, the Angel Gabriel first came to the Prophet Muhammad during the month of Ramadhan. This night is called the Night of Power (Layla-t-ul-Qadr). It is said that prayers offered during this night are equivalent to a thousand or more prayers. But nobody knows the exact date of this Night of Power. According to Islamic scholars, it is most probably during the last 10 days of Ramadhan.
After one month of fasting, the Muslims the world over celebrate the ‘Id al-Fitr, the Feast after the Fast or Thanksgiving Day after the fasting month of Ramadhan. This year, the ‘Id al-Fitr will be on July 6, give or take a day.
The ‘Id al-Fitr or “Hari Raya Puasa” as it is called in Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei and Mindanao, is one of only two celebrations sanctioned by the Qur’an. (The other is the ‘Id-al-Ad-ha, or the Feast of the Hajj.) On this day, it is obligatory for all Muslims to go to the mosque for the Festival (’Id) prayers, preferably in one’s best clothes. It is also obligatory to give charity. It is customary for Muslims to open their houses to everyone, including strangers, for brunch, lunch, merienda cena or dinner. And the adults usually give the children money, which makes this occasion the favorite holiday of Muslim children.
Muslims the world over greet each other “Ramadhan Kareem” during the month and “’Id Mubarak” during the ‘Id or the festivities / celebrations ending the fasting season In Arab countries, the ‘Id is a 3- or 4-day holiday, while in other Muslim countries, ‘Id celebrations extend to two or more weeks. To improve ethnic relations in the country, (then) Pres. Macapagal-Arroyo proclaimed ‘Id al-Fitr a national holiday.
Published in Mr. & Ms. magazine, Nov. 2007