Honoring the holy days

Discipline, reflection during Ramadan
Tuesday, October 4, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 6:05 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

"Ramadan is the month during which the Quran was revealed, providing guidance for the people, clear teachings, and the statute book. Those of you who witness this month shall fast therein.”

Quran, Chapter 2, verse 185

For Columbia’s Muslim community, the next 30 days will be a time for self-discipline, community ties and inward reflection.

Ramadan, which begins this week with the sighting of the crescent moon, marks the moment when Allah revealed the first verses of the Quran to the prophet Muhammad in A.D. 610. Over the next 23 years, Muhammad was said to receive Allah’s messages through an angel, Gabriel. The result was the sacred book of Islam, transcribed in Arabic complete with 114 suras, or chapters.

“It’s my favorite time of the year,” said Faeza Khan, an 18-year-old MU student. “All year we get distracted, but this one month is dedicated entirely to strenghtening a relationship with God.”

There are an estimated 1.2 billion Muslims worldwide, and about 7 million in the United States, according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the largest Muslim civil rights organization, based in Washington, D.C.

Ramadan is the ninth month in the Islamic year, which is based on a lunar calendar. A new month is marked by the sighting of a new moon’s crescent. The holy month’s observance changes annually because the lunar calendar is 11 to 12 days shorter than the solar calendar.

Ramadan encourages increased visits to the mosque to read the Quran, perform extra prayers and meet with other Muslims.

“It’s the month we can concentrate on what’s important to us — why we are Muslims,” said Maaz Maqbool, a 21-year-old MU biology major. “I know it will be a time where I can really focus and concentrate on being a better Muslim.”

Muslims are required to practice salah, ritual prayers, five times per day. However, extra prayers, called tarawih, are held nightly at mosques so the scriptures of the Quran are recited and learned during Ramadan.

During Ramadan, Muslims practice sawn, or fasting — an obligation required by the Five Pillars of Sunni Islam; it is also one of the 10 Branches of Religion in Shi’a Islam. Able Muslims refrain from smoking, sexual relations and taking food and drink from sunset to dawn. Fasting is not obligatory for young children, the chronically ill, pregnant women and the elderly. Muslims are also encouraged to reconcile their differences with others during Ramadan.

One benefit of fasting is that it focuses the devout on important issues, said Amil Kapili, secretary of the Islamic Center of Central Missouri.

“You free yourselves from your needs and reach out to others more,” he said. “You put things in perspective. You have a feeling of humility and become aware of others.”

Each evening during Ramadan, immediately after sunset, Muslisms and their families get together for the iftar , the breaking of the fast. Traditional foods, including dates, sweets, soups and salads, are served. Families can also gather for suhoor, a meal served before sunrise.

Ramadan ends with Eid al-Fitr, the “Festival of Breaking the Fast,” one of Islam’s two major celebrations. Muslims dress in elaborate clothes, decorate their homes and visit family and friends. The other major celebration is Eid al-Adha, “Festival of Sacrifice,” which occurs during Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to the city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia.

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