July 10, 2013
Daijiworld Media Network - Riyadh
Wednesday July 10 is the first day of Ramadan, especially in Saudi Arabia and other parts of the Gulf countries. It’s the ninth month of Hijrah calendar. Fasting in Sha’ban (eight month) thinking it is Ramadan is not considered to be a valid fasting of Ramadan. The month starts with the sighting of the moon to determine that the Sha’ban month has finished and Ramadan month has already come in. Except this, there is no any significance in the viewing of crescent in the Islamic point of view.
Fasting during the month of Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam. Of course, it is obligatory for all those adult Muslims who are physically and mentally sound and fit. However, there are categories of people who are exempted from fasting like travellers, sick people, aged people, children, menstruating women and women who give birth and others. However, they must observe the missed days of fasting after Ramadan once they become free from their conditions. Children above ten should be encouraged to observe fasting. This month is also described as the “Month of Quran” (Shahr-al-Quran), because the holy book was revealed in this month for the first time through Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh), who was the last messenger of Allah, the God.
The God says – "The month of Ramadan in which was revealed the Quran, a guidance for mankind and clear proofs for the guidance and the criterion (between right and wrong)…", "Verily, We (Allah) have sent it (this Quran) down in the Night of Al-Qadr (Decree)”, which is better than a thousand months (that is, worshipping Allah on that night is better than worshipping Him a thousand months).
Quran says: “O ye who believe, fasting has been prescribed upon you as it was prescribed upon those before you, so that ye may become pious”. It means, the fasting was not only prescribed for the followers of the Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh), but it was ordered for the earlier generations also. It’s a vital and special type of worship, which a Muslim observes by controlling his mind and body and abstaining from eating, drinking, sexual indulgence etc from dawn to dusk. There is no use fasting unless he desists from bad and wrongful actions. The Prophet (Pbuh) says - “There is no benefit or reward from the God if a Muslim simply fasts from dawn to dusk, without abstaining from all types of vices and evils”. Taqwa (God-fearing) plays a important role behind every Islamic deed and action performed by the Muslims and as such, fasting is also purely based on Taqwa. It is a sort of secret worship to the God without being known by anyone unless otherwise told or revealed. The God reveals that “a believer gives up his eating and drinking for Me only and Fasting is for Me only”.
Fasting Muslims keeps themselves very busy with special prayers in mosques and homes (apart from their regular five times-a-day obligatory prayers) and with Quran recitations, charity-giving, inviting people for Iftar (mass breaking of fast) and other kind of helps and services. They step up their all religious deeds with the intent to get more rewards from the God. Quranic indication and saying of the Prophet (Pbuh) is a driving force behind the maximization of their acts. The month doubles the rewards from the God. It is the Prophet’s saying that during the month, Satan (evil forces) is tied up and the doors of Heaven will be opened and doors of Hell will get closed.
Sahur (pre-dawn food) is one of the special observances during the month that has a particular sanctity from the Hadeeth and Sunnah of the Prophet (Pbuh). He said-“Take Sahur since there is a Barakah (prosperity) in it even by just taking a cup of water”. Muslims, all over the world, wake up in the early hours for the Sahur and take food of their choice. Once or before the call for morning prayer (Fajar prayer) is made, they abstain from the acts that break their fasting. So, the Muslims by and large take pre-dawn meals to get ready for fasting during the whole day.
Iftar is another special performance a fasting Muslim does. Iftar is an Arabic terminology used to ‘break the fast’ soon after its due period. In fact, it’s a cheerful moment for a fasting person to sever his fast, otherwise, it is sinful for him to break it unless there is valid reason. There is a Prophetic instruction to speed up one’s breaking of fast soon after it becomes due. The Prophet (Pbuh) says “Sahur should be delayed and Iftar should be hurried up, when the time is due”. Every fasting person eagerly gets on his toes to break his fast after sunset or soon after the calling of Maghreb Adhan (call for prayer at dusk). Iftar food comprises fruits, juices, dates, water, coconut gruel, sweets and other items. The fasting Muslims are highly encouraged to invite others for Iftar with them. Even just giving dates and water for the fasting observers is also highly encouraged. Hence, we can see lot of Iftar parties being organized by individuals or organizations in every part of India and other parts of the world.
Ramadan in Saudi Arabia
Unlike India, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is experiencing an extremely hot summer, which welcomed this year’s Ramadan once again. It is reported in a local newspaper that Ramadan will fall during the scorching climate again for the next seven years. That means, we can expect the arrival of the month during the boiling summer upto seven years. It is expected that during the second/third week of Ramadan, the temperature will be 45-50 degree Celsius. Riyadh, the capital city of the Kingdom, has been experiencing arid weather, while the eastern provinces like Dammam, Al-Khobar, Jubail, Al Hassa, which are situated on the banks of the Arabian Sea, are under direct exposure of severe humidity and sweat. Jeddah, the old capital city of the Kingdom that is situated on the banks of the Red Sea, is also not free from the heat and wetness though it is tolerable to a certain level.
Despite this, fasting in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is really comfortable, delightful and momentous. Usually, the activities in general turn brisker at night than the day as the night becomes day and day becomes night. Soon after the Iftar and special prayers (Taraweeh), everything becomes re-energized and invigorated. Shopping malls, super markets, petty shops become the centers of business and buzz with activity. Working hours during Ramadan are only six hours. Many companies and establishments split those hours into two shifts - four hours in the day and two hours at night. There are straight duties in some companies with different duty times, but not exceeding six hours. There are strict labour regulations for companies, especially construction companies, which mostly involve outdoor labourers, to restrict their working hours not later than the noontime during Ramadan, as the temperature rises meteorically from 11 am to 3.30 pm. So, most of the companies/establishments ask the workers to work at night.
Most of the souks, offices, stores and other centers are kept open till 3 am. We can find traffic jams on the roads across the city during the late nights. The Iftar is the only time when we can hardly see any vehicle on the road. The busiest main roads in Riyadh like the international Airport Road, Olaya Road, Gulf Bridge Road etc., become deserted with very few vehicles visible on them as most of the people happen to be busy in breaking their fasts at this time. Majority of the people sleep only after the morning prayer. All the schools remain closed for the summer holidays including Ramadan for more than two months and will reopen in September first week. Children are also seen enjoying their fasting periods with their parents and elders.
We can see all the mosques get busier during Ramadan than any other time and some mosques are jam-packed with special prayer, which is called Taraweeh including Withr prayer (Qiyamul Lail). Taraweeh prayer is the special prayer which is offered only during Ramadan. Daily special Dua (supplication) is included in the last part of Withr prayer in every mosque for the individual as well as for general welfare and peace. At the end of the month, the recitation of the entire Quran is completed in the Taraweeh prayer by the Imams (those who lead the prayers).
Quran recitation is also done in mosques and homes individually. Since two holy mosques in Makkah and Madeena are situated in the Kingdom, the number of pilgrims going for Umrah is considerably more and the mosque in Makkah is always packed with pilgrims, especially after the first two weeks of Ramadan. Makkah is the only place in the world where Iftar for lacs of people at a time is arranged on a large scale. It’s the saying of the Prophet that if anyone performs Umrah during Ramadan, it is equivalent to performance of Hajj with Him. There are mosques where Iftar is also arranged for the masses.
A number of tents and shelters have been put up in the junctions and road sides across the Kingdom. We can see such tents in Bath’ha, Naseem, Rowdah, Haarah and other parts of Riyadh and also in Al-Khobar, Dammam on large scales. Fasting people especially travelers and expatriates gather there to listen to the preachers’ religious discourse and breakfast. Many donors and organizations contribute for the Iftar arrangements on daily basis. Some volunteers are seen providing food packets at traffic signals to the travelers at the time of Iftar. Iftar parties are arranged in abundance by individuals and various organizations. Friends and relatives are frequently invited for the party either in their houses or restaurants.
Both Muslims and non-Muslims are prohibited from eating or drinking anything in public during day time in Saudi Arabia. Normally, non-Muslims can eat or drink privately during the fasting hours. However, Muslims are not even to do so unless they come under special category. If they are found eating without just cause, then Hai’a Agency (religious police) take them into custody for deterrence and sometimes impose fine also.