THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE HOLY MONTH OF RAMADAN
By Fatima Hassan
Fasting in the holy month of Ramadan is an annual act of worship universally practiced by Muslims all over the world as commanded by the religion to be performed by all believers as it is one of the five pillars of Islam.
To Muslims, fasting is a means of guarding oneself from evil and a way of imbibing the elements of righteousness, thus reflecting the essence of piety.
Ramadan is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar. The month of Ramadan was established as a Holy Month for Muslims after the revelation of the first verse of the Holy Quran to Prophet Muhammad , peace be upon Him, on the night known in Islam as the Night of Power or Majesty.
Islam acknowledges that fasting was made an act of worship to Prophets that came before the Prophet of Islam and Prophets after Prophets. Since then, fasting has been practiced in many forms up till now that Islam institutionalized it as an act of worship of all times.
The most distinctive feature of the sacred month of Ramadan is the concept of continuous fasting which Allah promised to reward personally. It is a month the doors of heaven remain perpetually open from where abundant blessings pour out to true worshippers.
Fasting in the month of Ramadan entails the purification of oneself from immoral thoughts and deeds that are contrary to the tenets of Islam. The entire month is spent in devotion and service to Allah in truth and spirit, devoid of the vagaries of material desires.
Essentially, Muslims who are healthy and able, have the obligation to undertake ‘’Saum’’ or fast, a religious duty that principally requires adherents to abstain from eating food, drink and sexual intercourse, from dawn to dusk, in fulfilment of one of the five pillars of Islam.
Muslims believe that fasting is more than abstaining from food and drink. Fasting also entails abstaining from falsehood in speech and action, abstaining from any transgression and indecent speech, and from arguing and having lustful thoughts.
The act of fasting emphasizes self-sacrifice, while the experience of hunger helps to develop empathy for those who are often hungry and lack most of the basic provisions of life that are always taken for granted by the wealthy.
In its ethical dimension, it connotes moral rectitude, which is the fruit of God-oriented vigilance and in its spiritual dimension, it connotes purification of heart and the mind.
Through fasting, one demonstrates the highest degree of obedience by willfully abstaining from lawful food, drink, and sexual relations from sunrise to sunset throughout the holy month each year.
This regimentation is an excellent means for spiritual and moral improvement. Through fasting, the human being comes to term with his carnal self, taming his physical appetites, subduing his greed and lust, and thus traversing a path which was prescribed for all Muslim faithful in the holy month of Ramadan and beyond.
It is mandatory upon Muslims that at the end of the month-long fast, Zakkat or charity of the most common food is distributed before the Eid prayers that serve as an act of kindness enjoined on mankind by the Almighty Allah.
The principle of the Zakkat is for the rich or privileged to give to the less fortunate and the poor in the society, sharing with them, meals cooked to celebrate Eid el Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan and the first day in the new month of Shawwal.
In Nigeria, as in other countries of the world, Muslim communities and groups embark on contributions in money, clothes and food items which are distributed to neighbours and the less fortunate, with the aim of giving the poor in the society a sense of belonging.
The 2021 Ramadan offers another opportunity for Muslims to support their neighbours and even non-Muslims by extending their act of kindness and generosity to the needy in order to ameliorate their suffering, especially now that poverty has become widespread as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic.
Coronavirus knows no religion nor tribe or race. Humanity and particularly the followers of Islam should be seen to be their brothers’ keeper at all times.
The best time to demonstrate this act of benevolence is now as Muslims commence their act of worship in the holy month of Ramadan.