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A time to reflect

O you who believe, fasting is decreed for you, as it was decreed for those before you, that you may attain salvation. [2:183]

The month of Ramadan which began on the 24th of September for locals is a time for inner reflection, devotion to God and self-control. Muslims around the world wake up before the break of dawn for a meal (sahar) and continue their day without food or drink until sunset. In fasting, or sawm, the fourth pillar of Islam, due to the lack of preoccupation with the satisfaction of bodily appetites, one experiences an ascension of the spiritual nature, a means of getting closer to God.

It is a period of intensive worship, giving of charity, and purifying one's behaviour. It is an opportunity to gain by giving up, to grow stronger by enduring hardship.

It is the month during which the Quran was revealed to provide clear guidance for the people, traditionally celebrated on the 27th of Ramadan (Laylatul Qadr). The 29 or 30 days that encompass the month of Ramadan culminates with Eid-al-Fitr, literally the Festival of Breaking the Fast. But what personal significance does it hold for the individual Muslim?

"I teach my children to be humble during the holy month of Ramadan, to think of others less fortunate around the world," says Mrs. Ismail, the mother of a brood of four. "I take them along with me when I help the miskin (the poor) so that they appreciate what good life God has gifted them.

I am very strict about their prayers and reciting the Quran. I take them along with me for tharawih prayers, except for the youngest one," she smiles. Mrs. Ismail strongly believes that extravagance during Ramadan is a sin. "We don't have elaborate meals for ifthar (the breaking fast meal) or sahar (the meal before the breaking of dawn) since it completely takes away the whole point of Ramadan. Of course we buy new clothes and presents for the children for Eid (festival), but nothing extravagant."

Ramadan is a month where Muslims are reacquainted with the hardships of others to better appreciate their own good fortune and to better understand and hence be in a better position to help the needy.

"If you don't go hungry and thirsty, how will you ever know what so many people out there are going through? In today's world of apathy, what better way to get a person to be human again?" asks Azam. "It's about self-control, the cleansing of the mind and body, a highly effective, proven detox programme.

For instance, a man has to control his desire no matter how hot his wife looks as she sweats over the kitchen fire," chuckles the 23-year old law student. (Sexual relations are not permitted between spouses during the fasting period) "Seriously, it's about getting control over your mind, an annual cleansing of mind, body and soul if you will."

"The most significant aspect of Ramadan is self-improvement," opines Haleema, 28. "It's an opportunity to slowly but surely unlearn your bad habits and relearn good, new ones. I start with small changes and try to live my life from day to day." Adds Haleema, "it's also about getting together with family.

"It's probably the only time everyone in our family have a meal at the same time at the same table, and that is precious. We also have relatives over for iftar, or visit with them. And Eid-ul Fitr itself is one big reunion where all of us come together at our grandmother's place. I love every single hour of it," she grins.

The month of Ramadan and the festival of Eid-ul Fitr takes on a new meaning even for the smallest among us. Nine-year old Naleem who has thus far fasted continuously for the first time is ecstatic. "I didn't leave even one," he beams. "The first three were hard, but after that it was okay." Presently at home on school vacation, he spends his time playing "snakes and ladders and ludo" with his sister.

And what does the festival day mean to this youngster? "On festival day I'll have a bath, have string hoppers (a family breakfast tradition according to his mother), wear my new clothes and go to the mosque for prayers (special festival prayers). After lunch I'll go see my grandparents and uncles and cousins, who will give me festival money," he says with dancing eyes.

Ramadan is indeed a special month for the more than one billion Muslims throughout the world. It is a period of time dedicated to essential spiritual growth. And to all the Muslims, Eid Mubarak for tomorrow or the day after.



Gamin Gamata - Presidential Community & Welfare Service
Sri Lanka

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