What is Ramadan? - Radical

What is Ramadan?

In this episode of Neighborhood and Nations, Steven Morales helps Christians understand the significance of Ramadan for Muslims. During this month, consider how you can pray for Muslims to experience the transforming power of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Could you give up food and water from dawn to sunset for a month? Well, every year over 2  billion people do just that. 

That’s a lot of people. And that’s a lot of time without food or water. Now, fasting is not a foreign concept for Christians, but I don’t know many who have done it for a whole month. So why would anyone subject themselves to this practice? Well, there’s a lot to unpack here, but if you’re a Christian who cares about understanding Muslim beliefs and practices, it’s important that you take a deeper look at one of the largest religious events in the world: Ramadan, Islam’s holiest month. 

How Islam Began

Before we can understand this Muslim holiday, it’s important to know how Islam began. It all started with a man named Muhammad. Way back in 610 A.D. Muslims believed Muhammad received visions from God, or Allah, through the angel Gabriel. Now, Muhammad didn’t write these visions down himself, but told scribes about them, which led to the writing of the Quran. The Quran is the Islamic 114 chapter, or Surah, holy book. It’s mostly filled with prayers, stories, and commandments.

And that’s why Ramadan was created. The holiday to celebrate the month when Muhammad first received visions from Allah, which led to the Quran. 

When Is Ramadan?

Well, like Easter for Christians, Ramadan dates shift a little bit from year to year, but it is longer than a day. This is because it takes place during the ninth and holiest month of the Islamic calendar, which is a lunar calendar, meaning the dates are based on the phases of the moon. So in 2023, Ramadan starts at sunset on March 22nd and ends on April 20th.

What Does Ramadan Consist Of?

Since you know Ramadan is a religious holiday, there’s got to be more to it than just not eating or drinking. And you’re right, a big part of Ramadan is prayer. So Muslims already regularly pray five times a day. When they do this, they recite the salat, or daily prayers, as they pray facing towards Mecca, which is a city where Muhammad founded Islam. Today, that’s in modern-day Saudi Arabia. These prayers involve bowing, kneeling, and touching the ground or a prayer mat. It’s all symbolic of their reverence and submission to Allah. During Ramadan, there are also Taraweeh prayers where long portions of the Quran are recited.

So usually the mosques are pretty packed in the evenings as Muslims are participating in this. But this is just for Sunni Muslims, one of the two types of Muslims. One of the last nights of Ramadan is called Laylatul Qadr. It’s the most sacred because it’s believed that all past sins can be forgiven through sincere prayer. But the biggest part of Ramadan has to do with giving up things most of us probably take for granted. It’s like when you try to give up something for Lent, kind of like that.

Sacrifice is taken very seriously during Ramadan. So much so that from sunrise to sunset for a whole month, Muslims don’t drink or eat anything. And yes, that includes water. Plus they have to abstain from a whole bunch of other activities. While some people can be exempt from fasting due to health concerns, many children and the elderly do in fact participate.

What Does a Day During Ramadan Look Like?

Most Muslims wake up before dawn and have what they call Suhoor. Think of a hefty breakfast that’s going to keep you going throughout the day. Then, while the sun is shining every day for a whole month, Muslims fast. Thankfully, at the end of the day when the sun sets, they have a feast called Iftar to fill up.

Traditionally, the feast starts by eating a date to break the fast. And usually, they’re not eating alone. Most of the Muslims have this feast In the company of family and friends. Ramadan is a time for community. The end of Ramadan is marked by Eid al-Fitr or the feast of fast breaking. The name kind of explains it all. It’s basically an all-you-can-eat buffet.

Not only is it a time to eat with your family and friends, but it’s also a time to say prayers, exchange gifts, and give to charity. 

What’s Really the Purpose Behind all of Ramadan?

What more can giving up food and water mean other than maybe making you feel kind of lousy for a month? Well, one of the five pillars of Islam is Sawn, which refers to the fasting that takes place during Ramadan. Another one that really goes into the meaning behind why Muslims fast is Zakat or alms, which explains how Muslims greatly value sharing their wealth with those in the community of believers who are less fortunate.

So all of this fasting and giving is meant to help Muslims learn self-control, restraint, gratitude, and compassion. When you actually experience going without basic necessities throughout the day, you’re able to have a lot more empathy toward those who are experiencing these kinds of struggles every day. You’ll also become more grateful for what you have. Ultimately, the whole point of Ramadan is for Muslims to grow in submission to Allah. It’s all about becoming more devoted to their faith, and that’s why a lot of Muslims actually love Ramadan. It’s not uncommon for many religions to teach and encourage good deeds and behavior.

It’s something us Christians are trying to do as well. We want to be good people, right? After all, we believe God created us so that wherever we are, whether in a park in the Middle East or a huge city in South America, we contribute to the flourishing and well-being of everything and everyone around us. And quite frankly, fasting helps that in a culture such as ours, with so much excess and waste. Giving up some things in order to practice self-control doesn’t sound half bad. It might actually help jumpstart some good things in us. But is it enough?

Good Works Are Not Enough

Take a good look around you and you’ll see an overwhelming problem with the world. It’s called sin, and while it is commendable that we strive to do as much good in this world as possible, there’s just no amount of hours of fasting or any good works that can be done to fix it. But the extraordinary thing is that we don’t have to do any of that to fix our world because God already did. In a couple of weeks, Christians around the world are going to be celebrating the death and resurrection of Christ during Easter, and that’s an incredible promise for us all. In Christ’s death, all of our bad deeds are forgiven. In his resurrection, all of our good works are enabled and empowered.

And now all of us can go to him with our good works and bad works and find not only forgiveness but also life and purpose. And yeah, we can fast, and we should definitely do good works, but most of all,  we live in dependence on Jesus, who will one day make all things new. 

So as billions enter into the month of Ramadan, I want to encourage you to pray that many more around the world get to join in the true and transforming hope that only can come through Christ Jesus our Lord.

Steven Morales

Steven Morales is the Content Director at Radical and hosts Neighborhood & Nations. He is based out of Guatemala City, Guatemala.


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