The Meaning of Ramadan
Ramadan is a special month of the year for over one billion Muslims throughout the world. It is a time for inner reflection, devotion to God, and self-control. Muslims think of it as a kind of tune-up for their spiritual lives. There are as many meanings of Ramadan as there are Muslims.
The third "pillar" or religious obligation of Islam (submission in English), fasting has many special benefits. Among these, the most important is that it is a means of learning self-control. Due to the lack of preoccupation with the satisfaction of bodily appetites during the daylight hours of fasting, a measure of ascendancy is given to one's spiritual nature, which becomes a means of coming closer to God. Ramadan is also a time of intensive worship, reading of the Quran, giving charity, purifying one's behavior, and doing good deeds. For Muslims (Submitters), Ramadan is an opportunity to gain by giving up, to prosper by going without and to grow stronger by enduring weakness.
As a secondary goal, fasting is a way of experiencing hunger and developing sympathy for the less fortunate, and learning to thankfulness and appreciation for all of God's bounties. Fasting is also beneficial to the health and provides a break in the cycle of rigid habits or overindulgence.
Most Muslims do not fast because of medical benefits but because it has been ordained to them in the Quran. The medical benefits of fasting are as a result of fasting. Fasting in general has been used in medicine for medical reasons including weight management, for rest of the digestive tract and for lowering lipids. There are many adverse effects of total fasting as well as so-called crash diets. Islamic fasting is different from such diet plans because in Ramadan fasting, there is no malnutrition or inadequate calorie intake. The caloric intake of Muslims during Ramadan is at or slightly below the national requirement guidelines. In addition, the fasting in Ramadan is voluntarily taken and is not a prescribed imposition from the physician.
Ramadan is a month of self-regulation and self-training, with the hope that this training will last beyond the end of Ramadan. If the lessons learned during Ramadan, whether in terms of dietary intake or righteousness, are carried on after Ramadan, it is beneficial for one's entire life. Moreover, the type of food taken during Ramadan does not have any selective criteria of crash diets such as those which are protein only or fruit only type diets. Everything that is permissible is taken in moderate quantities.
The only difference between Ramadan and total fasting is the timing of the food; during Ramadan, we basically miss lunch and take an early breakfast and do not eat until dusk. Abstinence from water during this period is not bad at all and in fact, it causes concentration of all fluids within the body, producing slight dehydration. The body has its own water conservation mechanism; in fact, it has been shown that slight dehydration and water conservation, at least in plant life, improve their longevity.
The physiological effect of fasting includes lower of blood sugar, lowering of cholesterol and lowering of the systolic blood pressure. In fact, Ramadan fasting would be an ideal recommendation for treatment of mild to moderate, stable, non-insulin diabetes, obesity and essential hypertension. In 1994 the first International Congress on "Health and Ramadan", held in Casablanca, entered 50 research papers from all over the world, from Muslim and non-Muslim researchers who have done extensive studies on the medical ethics of fasting. While improvement in many medical conditions was noted; however, in no way did fasting worsen any patients' health or baseline medical condition. On the other hand, patients who are suffering from severe diseases, whether diabetes or coronary artery disease, kidney stones, etc., are exempt from fasting and should not try to fast.
There are psychological effects of fasting as well. There is a peace and tranquility for those who fast during the month of Ramadan. Personal hostility is at a minimum, and the crime rate decreases. This psychological improvement could be related to better stabilization of blood glucose during fasting as hypoglycemia after eating, aggravates behavior changes. Recitation of the Quran not only produces a tranquility of heart and mind, but improves the memory. Therefore, I encourage my Muslim patients to fast in the month of Ramadan, but they must do it under medical supervision. Healthy adult Muslims should not fear becoming weak by fasting, but instead it should improve their health and stamina.
Who Fasts in Ramadan?
Fasting in Ramadan is obligatory on those who can do it. . Sick people and some travelers in certain conditions are exempted from the fast but must make it up as they are able.
From Dawn to Sunset
The daily period of fasting starts at the breaking of dawn and ends at the setting of the sun. In between -- that is, during the dawn and daylight hours -- Muslims (Submitters) totally abstain from food, drink, smoking, and sex. The usual practice is to have a pre-fast meal (suhoor) before dawn and a post-fast meal (iftar) after sunset.
The Islamic lunar calendar, being 11 to 12 days shorter than the Gregorian calendar, migrates throughout the seasons. Thus, if Ramadan begins on January 20 one year, next year it will begin on January 9. In this way, the length of the day, and thus the fasting period, varies in length from place to place over the years. Every Muslim, no matter where he or she lives, will see an average Ramadan day of the approximately 13.5 hours.
Devotion to God
The last ten days of Ramadan are a time of special spiritual power as everyone tries to come closer to God through devotions and good deeds. The night on which the Quran was revealed to the Prophet, known as the Night of Power (Lailat ul-Qadr), is generally taken to be the 27th night of the month. The Quran states that this night is better than a thousand months. Therefore many Muslims (Submitters) spend the entire night in prayer.
During the month, Muslims (Submitters) try to read as much of the Quran as they can. Some spend part of their day listening to the recitation of the Quran in a mosque. meet for Quranic studies or for congregation prayers. Some spend the last ten days of Ramadan in a mosque devoting the whole ten days for worshipping God.