COMMENTARY 790.2: Ramadan Kareem

Ramadan Kareem. Ramadan Mubarak. Kul ‘am wa enta bi-khair! (May every year find you in good health!)

Please forgive my pronunciation, but I want to respectfully offer warm wishes and greetings to my Muslim brothers and sisters during the holy month of Ramadan.

To those whose entire perspective of Islam and the Qur’an is shaped by fear and hatred of Muslim extremists committed to the concept of jihad, violent holy war against non-Muslims, it is important to know that the vast majority of the one and a half billion Muslims in the world have the same aversion to terrorism and murder as you and I.

Just as most Jews and Christians do not define their beliefs or guide their lives by the hard passages of the Bible that endorse cruel, violent, unjust, and intolerant behavior, most Muslims do not live by similarly hard passages of the Qur’an.

Most Muslims draw on their holy scripture for lessons about virtue and living a good and worthy life.

During Ramadan, devout Muslims demonstrate their faith through prayer, fasting, and righteous conduct. They are expected to avoid unkind acts and words and resist the sins of envy, greed, and anger. Although charity and good deeds are always important in Islam, they have special significance during Ramadan, as reflection on the meaning of life and the self-discipline and sacrifice entailed in the prayers and fasting are meant to enhance understanding, sympathy, and charity for those who are less fortunate.

The spirit of Ramadan is gratitude and loving kindness.

So I close with these traditional wishes:

May the Ramadan bring you peace and prosperity, good health and wealth, and brighten your life forever. May the spirit of Ramadan illuminate the world and show us the way to peace and harmony.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.


More on Ramadan, adapted from infoplease’s “Ramadan and Eid-al-Fitr” page, and Wikipedia’s“Ramadan” page.

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, in which each month begins with the sighting of the new moon. Because the lunar calendar is about 11 days shorter than the solar calendar, Islamic holidays “move” each year. In 2012, Ramadan began at sundown on July 20 and ended on the evening of August 18.

Muslims believe that during the month of Ramadan, Allah revealed the first verses of the Qur’an, the holy book of Islam to the prophet Muhammad.

Ramadan is a month to get closer to the almighty and recommit to religious principles. Prayer, fasting, and self-sacrifice rituals are intended to teach Muslims about patience, spirituality, humility, gratitude, charity, and other virtues of human perfection.

Muslims practice sawm, or fasting, for the entire month of Ramadan. This means that they may eat or drink nothing, including water, while the sun shines. Fasting is one of the Five Pillars (duties) of Islam. As with other Islamic duties, all able Muslims take part in sawm from about age twelve.

During Ramadan in the Muslim world, most restaurants are closed during the daylight hours. Families get up early for suhoor, a meal eaten before the sun rises. After the sun sets, the fast is broken with a meal known as iftarIftar usually begins with dates and sweet drinks that provide a quick energy boost.

Fasting serves many purposes. While they are hungry and thirsty, Muslims are reminded of the suffering of the poor. Fasting is also an opportunity to practice self-control and to cleanse the body and mind. And in this most sacred month, fasting helps Muslims feel the peace that comes from spiritual devotion as well as kinship with fellow believers.

In addition to fasting, participating Muslims refrain from sex and other self-indulgences during daylight hours.

On the evening of the last day of Ramadan, Muslims celebrate the night Muhammad first received the revelation of the Holy Qur’an. According to the Qur’an, this is when God determines the course of the world for the following year.

Ramadan ends with the festival of Eid al-Fitr, which in 2011 occurs on August 30. Literally the “Festival of Breaking the Fast,” Eid al-Fitr is one of the two most important Islamic celebrations. (The other occurs after the Hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca.) At Eid al-Fitr, people dress in their finest clothes, adorn their homes with lights and decorations, give treats to children, and enjoy visits with friends and family.

Story of Muhammad and the Roots of Islam, adapted from Between Sundays

Muhammad was born in 570. His father died around the time of his birth, and his mother died when he was six years old. He was raised by his grandfather and an uncle who was a tribal leader. (In those days, most people living in Arabia were nomads. Families, or clans, were organized together into tribes.)

The only people more powerful than tribal leaders were poets. Poets were believed to be possessed of spirits known as “jinn” that inhabit the natural world. Arabs believed jinn could work good and evil, so keeping the spirits happy was important: Most tribes also believed in other gods and goddesses, including Allah (the creator of the universe) and his three daughters.

Each year local tribesmen visited Mecca to see the KaBah, an area built around a mysterious and sacred black stone (possibly a meteorite) that contained a sanctuary dedicated to these goddesses. With these annual pilgrimages, Mecca became an important commercial center as well as a religious center.

During Muhammad’s early adult life in Mecca, Arabian society began to become more concerned with individual prosperity than clan and tribal community. At age 25, Muhammad married an older, wealthy merchant woman. He became involved in commerce and traveled frequently to areas north of Mecca, where Christianity and Judaism were prominent.

Muhammad was only mildly happy with the comforts that wealth brought, and he was quite concerned about the decline of traditional values and community. He began to spend a lot of time alone in meditation and prayer.

In 610 Muhammad was traveling home one night when he passed a poor and homeless boy staring blankly out in the night. This caused Muhammad to reflect more deeply about how more people seemed concerned only about themselves. Tribal wars were increasing, and in Mecca money and commerce seemed to dominate everyone’s thoughts and actions. He was troubled when he thought of the misery of poor people like this young boy.

Consumed by these thoughts, Muhammad went to a favorite cave outside Mecca to spend the night fasting and meditating. As he sat in silence, the angel Gabriel appeared, held Muhammad tightly in his arms, and ordered him to recite a short set of words. When Muhammad did so, the angel released him and disappeared. As Muhammad fled from the cave, he heard a voice say, “Muhammad, you are the Messenger of God. And I am Gabriel.”

When Muhammad got home, he told his wife Khadijah what he had seen and heard. He said he was afraid he was losing his mind. But the visions of Gabriel continued. Each time Muhammad was asked to recite certain words before the vision would let him go. Khadijah was sure the words had come from God and that Muhammad had been chosen by Gabriel to be a messenger of God, just as the angel had said. It took Muhammad several years of experiencing the visions to come to believe they were truly revelations from God.

By 613 Muhammad was preaching openly in the streets. He declared that there was only one God, Allah. He preached that Allah was all-powerful and that a day of judgment would come to all people. To worship any other gods, or jinn, was to violate the absolute oneness of Allah. The merchants and leaders in Mecca saw Muhammad’s ideas as threats to the established religious system that kept them wealthy and in power. Hostility against Muhammad grew until his life was in danger.

In 619 Muhammad moved his family and supporters away from Mecca to nearby Ta’if for refuge. The main tribe there refused to let them stay, so they were forced to return to Mecca. That same year, both Muhammad’s wife and his uncle Abu Talib died. In the middle of his sadness and troubles, Muhammad had the most remarkable experience of his life.

One night Gabriel came to Muhammad in his sleep. But instead of talking to him, he flew with Muhammad on a winged horse to Jerusalem, where from a large rock, they ascended to heaven. In heaven Muhammad met with Abraham, Moses, and Jesus. At the end of his journey, it is said that Muhammad stood before God.

Muhammad’s followers increased and so did the hostility against them. In 622 Muhammad heard that a group from Mecca were planning to kill him. He arranged to leave Mecca that very night with Abu Bakr, his closest friend. They fled to a cave outside of town where they hid for three days. According to legend, the mouth of the cave was covered with a fine spider’s web just moments before the Meccan assassins rode by. When they saw the delicate web covering the entrance, they were sure no one could have recently gone inside.

Muhammad and Abu Bakr traveled to the city of Medina where they formed the first Islamic community. This journey, known today as Hijrah, marks the beginning of the Islamic calendar.

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