No month holds as much significance for Muslims as Ramadan. It is a practice that dates back thousands of years, and it forms an integral part of the religion of Islam. Throughout history, Muslims around the world have observed Ramadan by fasting between sunrise and sunset during the ninth month of the lunar year to uphold Sawm, the Fourth Pillar of Islam. Rooted in the Five Pillars of Islam, fasting is one of the core values every Muslim is obligated to follow, which makes Ramadan a compulsory principle for those who follow Islam.
What is the history of Ramadan, and why do Muslims fast?
It is widely respected by people from all religions and cultures across the globe, but few outside of the Islam community know the history behind the Holy Month. We will explain the history of Ramadan, the history of Ramadan fasting, what it means for Muslims and how it is observed around the world.
The History of Ramadan and the Origin of Islam
The city of Mecca in Arabia was home to the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), who, in around 610 A.D., started to receive revelations from Allah (SWT) during a month-long period. During this month, the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) encountered the Angel Jibril. During this encounter, it is said that the Angel Jibril revealed the exact words of Allah (SWT) in the form of the Qur’an. It is believed that the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was the last of the prophets Allah (SWT) chose to share his words and his teachings with mankind, and as such, the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is considered the Messenger of Allah (SWT) along with the 24 other prophets, which includes Ibrahim, Adam, Isa and Musa.
The night the Angel Jibril revealed the Qur’an is known as Laylat Al-Qadr. Translated to English, it means ‘The Night of Power’. Many Muslims believe Laylat Al-Qadr falls on the 27th night of the ninth month of the lunar year, but others believe it falls on the 23rd night. Given this is the night the holy Qur’an was first revealed, this is the most prominent day of all for Muslims and is the most important day in the history of Ramadan.
It is believed that over the course of 23 years, Muhammad (PBUH) was told the teachings of Allah (SWT). Over time, five key principles were revealed, known as the Pillars of Islam. They are as follows:
- Shahada (declaring your belief and faith in one God – Allah (SWT) – and the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH))
- Salat (praying five times a day)
- Zakat (giving charity to those less fortunate)
- Sawm (fasting during the month of Ramadan)
- Hajj (making the holy pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in your life if you are able to do so)
The Prophet (PBUH) made it his mission to spread the word of Allah (SWT) and his teachings. There are now over one billion Muslims worldwide, making it the second biggest religion in the world. There are different sects of Islam which follow different teachings and trains of thought, but all of Islam is built on the Five Pillars, and as such, all Muslims partake in Ramadan in order to honour Sawm.
Observing Ramadan - Why Fasting is so Important to its History
Along with the other four core values of Islam, Ramadan is an essential part of the religion and has been observed for more than 14 centuries. The teachings of Ramadan were revealed in 622 A.D. during a particularly hot time in Medina (the location Muslims moved to following battles and persecution they faced in Mecca, which is where the Qur’an was first revealed to Muhammad (PBUH)). The word ‘Ramadan’ translates to ‘intense heat’, which refers to the time of year it was first observed.
The Islamic Calendar is based on the lunar cycle, and as such, the time of Ramadan alters by around 10 days every year. This means, depending on where you are in the world, Ramadan may not fall on a particularly hot time of the year, despite its name.
During Ramadan, Muslims must abstain from the following:
- Eating and drinking during daylight hours
- Impure thoughts and acts during daylight hours (such as any sexual activity)
- Fighting, arguing, lying, and swearing
Fasting is the biggest part of Ramadan, and only a handful of groups may be exempt from it, including:
- Those who are poorly and receiving medical treatment
- Women who are pregnant, breastfeeding or menstruating
- The elderly and frail
- Pre-pubescent children
- Those who are travelling
Those who are exempt are required to make up the missed days later in the year, or they must pay Fidya in place of fasting, which is a charitable donation used to provide food to those who do not have any. Anyone who is not exempt from fasting that breaks the fast intentionally (without a valid reason) must fast for a further 60 days during the year, or they must pay Kaffarah, which is the value of feeding 60 people. While the cost of Fidya is roughly £5 per day, Kaffarah is around £300.
Whilst fasting, Muslims are permitted to eat Suhoor (the meal before sunrise) and Iftar (the meal after sunset). It is common for mosques to host large Suhoor/Iftar gatherings so that those who do not have access to food may eat during the month of Ramadan alongside their brothers and sisters.
The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) declared a day of celebration and community festivities following the month of Ramadan, known as Eid al-Fitr. It has long been a tradition for Muslims to congregate with friends and family and feast, exchange gifts and pray together during Eid.
The Meaning of Ramadan
With less time spent on impure and distracting activities, Muslims are able to go through a month-long period of self-reflection and dedicate their time to reciting the Qur’an and strengthening their bond with Allah (SWT) during what is regarded as the month of revelation. They have the time and clarity to reflect back on the history of Ramadan and better understand why it is important for Muslims to fast.
By not eating during the day, Muslims are able to focus all their time and energy on Allah (SWT), as well as understand the struggles of those who do not have food security due to circumstances outside of their control. To amplify this, it is common for Muslims to donate their Zakat (the Third Pillar of Islam) during Ramadan, specifically on the Night of Power, as it is believed the rewards for doing so are the equivalent of the rewards you would receive if you were to do a good deed every day for a thousand months.
Before the final prayers of Ramadan, Muslims are required to donate their Fitrana. This is a contribution made by every Muslim with food beyond their means in order to provide food for someone who doesn’t have any. It is commonly used to help those who are less fortunate to join in with the Eid celebrations.
Find Out More
Ramadan has a long, rich history of uniting Muslims around the world. It is a holy tradition that has not waned over thousands of years and, as the Muslim population continues to grow, remains a wholly integral part of Islam.
If you have any questions about the meaning behind Ramadan or any of the religious pillars and teachings, please feel free to contact us, and we will be happy to share our knowledge at this auspicious time of the year.