Ramadan is the 9th lunar month of the Islamic calendar. The celebration of Ramadan is characterized by fasting (sawm) from sunrise to sunset for the entire month. Maybe because of the fasting aspect, many think that this month can be compared to the Christian season of Lent.

The theology behind the Islamic fasting during the month of Ramadan is not akin to the penance and fasting of the Christian Lent. If comparison would be made, the closer “spirit” is the penance and fasting of Advent that is characterized by the joyful expectation for Christmas of the birth of Jesus the Lord.

The month of Ramadan is annually celebrated by fasting, penance and feasting to commemorate the coming down of the Qur’an – the Word of God. Every Muslim upon reaching the “age of reason”, unless sick or unable to fast, must observe the obligation of fasting prescribed by the Qur’an and the Shari’a.

For the year 2013, Ramadan begins on the evening of the 9th of July and ends on the sighting of the new moon. Believers, until now, reckon the beginning and end of the Ramadan on the basis of actual sighting of the new moon.

Everyday at sundown, the Muslims celebrate the “breaking of the fast” (buca). In many Islamic countries, the rich people erect tents where food and refreshments overflow for the whole month of Ramadan for people to break the fast together. All, especially the poor are invited to partake of the daily feast.

The highlight of fasting would come about during the celebration of the “night of power”. This is the “most holy night where the Qur’an is revealed. The Word of God becomes the Qur’an. The Night of Power (Lailat ul-Qadr), is generally taken to be the 27th night of the month. The Qur’an states that this night is better than a thousand months. Therefore many Muslims spend the entire night in prayer.

In many spiritual circles, one recognizes this particular night when Muslims “light” candles or torches. These are lighted in their homes and yards and people spend the whole night in the recitation of the Qur’an until the banquet before the rising of the sun.

The sighting of the new moon marks the end of Ramadan. This is the Feast of ‘Idul Fitr” (Breaking the Fast). Every one has to break the fast; and they prepare themselves to “parade” towards the publicly designated public prayer. In many places, the people go by groups from all direction towards the designated place for the assembly prayer while continuously proclaiming the “takhbir” (Allahu Akbar). (When I lived in Cairo, the takhbir created a sound akin to “thunder”!

Qur’anic verses on Ramadan fasting…

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

Specific days (are designated for fasting); if one is ill or traveling, an equal number of other days may be substituted. Those who can fast, but with great difficulty, may substitute feeding one poor person for each day of breaking the fast. If one volunteers (more righteous works), it is better. But fasting is the best for you, if you only knew. [2:184]

Ramadan is the month during which the Qur’an was revealed, providing guidance for the people, clear teachings, and the statute book. Those of you who witness this month shall fast therein. Those who are ill or traveling may substitute the same number of other days. GOD wishes for you convenience, not hardship, that you may fulfill your obligations, and to glorify GOD for guiding you, and to express your appreciation. [2:185]

When My servants ask you about Me, I am always near. I answer their prayers when they pray to Me. The people shall respond to Me and believe in Me, in order to be guided. [2:186]

Permitted for you is sexual intercourse with your wives during the nights of fasting. They are the keepers of your secrets, and you are the keepers of their secrets. God knew that you used to betray your souls, and He has redeemed you, and has pardoned you. Henceforth, you may have intercourse with them, seeking what God has permitted for you. You may eat and drink until the white thread of light becomes distinguishable from the dark thread of night at dawn. Then, you shall fast until sunset. Sexual intercourse is prohibited if you decide to retreat to the Masjid (during the last ten days of Ramadan). These are God’s laws; you shall not transgress them. GOD thus clarifies His revelations for the people, that they may attain salvation. [2:187]


Fr. Eliseo Mercado is senior policy adviser at the Institute for Autonomy & Governance. Follow him on Twitter @junmeromi.