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Happy Ramadan, everybody!

Colorful lanterns are often light to celebrate the month of Ramadan.

During Ramadan lanterns and lamps of various kinds, hues and degrees of brightness are often strung in homes and businesses.

A time of rejoicing, fasting and prayer

From Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Sam wishes all a very happy Ramadan!

From Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Sam wishes all his friends around the world a very happy Ramadan! (Click on photos to enlarge.)

Today, 29 June 2014, marks the first day of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which is the most important time of the year for Muslims worldwide.

This is my third year to join in the celebration of Ramadan in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, having moved to Jeddah in December 2011.

Ramadan is viewed by children as a wonderfully magical time. Neighborhood houses and businesses are often adorned with strings of colored, lighted lanterns. During Ramadan lanterns and lamps of various kinds, hues and degrees of brightness are often strung in homes and businesses. Many stories of their origins have been told. One legend has it that the Fatimid Caliph Al Hakim Bi-Amr Illah wanted to light the streets of Cairo during Ramadan nights, so he ordered all the sheikhs of mosques to hang Fawanees that could be illuminated by candles. As a result, the Fanoos became a custom that has never been abandoned.

Homes seem to be perfumed constantly with the mixed smells of food and burning incense—all serving as a constant reminder that this month is a very special time of the year.

The uninterrupted chanting of Qur’an verses emanating from nearby mosques indicate the absolute solemnity of Ramadan.

It is an intrinsically sacred time for all Muslims. It was during the month of Ramadan that the first revelations of the holy Qur’an were first revealed to the Prophet Mohammed by the Archangel Gabriel.

The Qur’an is the holy book of Muslims, being recited daily year-round through prayers and worship. It is the basis for reflection in guiding the lives of Muslim men, women and children.

A time of renewal, drawing closer to God

During Ramadan, Muslims will fast and engage in extra prayers and worship, as a means of drawing nearer to God.

Ramadan is the ninth Islamic month. The Islamic calendar is based on a lunar calendar, and the lunar calendar which is 10 days shorter than the Gregorian calendar. It, therefore, takes 30 years for the calendar to rotate full cycle.

Fasting and prayer are from dawn to dusk during Ramadan, which presents greater challenges to Muslims living in the far northern regions where they are expected to stick to the rules, no matter how long the fasting period may be. Fasting in northern Canada or the Nordic states of Norway, Sweden, and Finland is especially difficult, but the blessings of fulfilling the fast are even greater.

The Prophet Muhammad taught that “whoever does not give up lying or cursing during Ramadan, God has no need for that person to give up his food or drink” – which emphasizes that Ramadan is not just about avoiding food or drink, but also working on who one purports to be as a person.

As a spiritual support to achieve one’s goal, Muslims will attend their mosques more often. In the evenings there will be a special extended prayer time.

A Muslim family breaks the fast at sundown with Iftar.

A Muslim family breaks the fast at sundown with Iftar.

A month of empathy and gratitude

Ramadan is known as the “month of empathy.” Ramadan is an exercise in empathy for the more than 2 billion people in the world who live in poverty, but it’s also a lesson in gratitude.

During this 30-day period Muslims put themselves in the shoes of people who are in dire straits—people who are suffering deprivation of all kinds: thirst, hunger, homelessness, sickness, pain, etc.

This month at Tuqwa Mosque in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, as in all mosques around the world, the brothers and sisters gather five times a day for prayer, fellowship and encouragement while reflecting on the needs of others in their community and worldwide.

Collections are made for the poor. Individuals are encouraged to carry out distributions to the poor. It is common to find men, women and children on street corners distributing dates and water to passersby at sundown for the breaking of the fast.

The ultimate “anger management” course

Men and women seek to draw closer to God through prayer and reading the Qur'an.

Men and women seek to draw closer to God through increased prayer times and reading the Qur’an.

Along with learning and practicing empathy towards others, one is to learn patience.

For 30 consecutive days the faithful are put into a situation where they will face are going to be hungry, sugar levels are low, and the chances are that one is going to get a bit edgy and agitated, so either one develops a rather foul mood for the month of Ramadan or one deals with it successfully for 30 days.

Ramadan is likened by Dr Mansur Ali Jameel, lecturer in Islamic Studies at the Center for the Study of Islam at Cardiff University in the United Kingdom, as “the best possible anger management course.”

Muslims are advised to control and deny anger. If one feels anger rising within, one is encouraged to take refuge in God.

The Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) said, “If a man gets angry and says, ‘I seek refuge with God from the accursed Satan,’ his anger will go away.” Saying this, Muslims believe, will make it easier to control your anger, as it will remind you that it’s being increased by Satan’s whisperings and that he is rubbing his hands with glee at your rising temper!

Standing makes one feel strong, agressive and powerful and ready for fight. So if one gets angry while standing one is directed to follow the Prophet’s advice: “When one of you becomes angry while standing, he should sit down. If the anger leaves him, well and good; otherwise he should lie down” (Abu Dawud and Al Tirmidhi).

Remembering God and the coming judgment

Noor Khan helps load food bags for different charities that were picking up the donated food bags at the Al Hijra School in Windsor, Ontario, Canada. The food and cash donations were collected by the local Muslim community.

Noor Khan helps load food bags for different Canadian charities. The food and cash donations were collected by the local Windsor, Ontario, Muslim community.

All the Abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) teach that there will most definitely be a final day when all humankind will stand before God in Judgment. Jesus spoke of the Judgment Day when he walked among men. He said “Every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of’ Judgment” (Matthew 12:36). We’re told in Hadith Jibra’il, that one is: “…to worship God as though you are seeing Him, and while you see Him not yet—truly He sees you” (Al-Bukhari).

Such God-consciousness (tuqwa) is a good practice for all who claim to believe in the God of Abraham!

One should strive to live each moment, fully aware of God’s presence, living in the knowledge that He is watching everything done by humankind—that someday there will be an accounting for one’s behavior here on earth.

Ramadan is a great time to demonstrate repentance, seeking renewal in one’s relationship with God, to gain forgiveness and peace through increased reverence and worship and to prepare oneself for that final, great Judgment Day.

A firm faith in God is the beginning of that journey—but it must be proved that it is a genuine faith that leads to changed behavior while reflecting on the needs of others and exercising self-restraint; engendering greater love, dedication and service to our almighty God.

Eid al Fitr celebrations

Ramadan ends with the festival Eid al Fitr, which in 2014 occurs on July 28. Literally the “Festival of Breaking the Fast,” Eid al Fitr is one of the two most important Islamic celebrations (the other occurs after the Hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca). At Eid al Fitr people dress in their finest clothes, adorn their homes with lights and decorations, give treats to children, and enjoy visits with friends and family.

A sense of generosity and gratitude colors these festivities. Although charity and good deeds are always important in Islam, they have special significance at the end of Ramadan. As the month draws to a close, Muslims are obligated to share their blessings by feeding the poor and making contributions to mosques and community nonprofit organizations.

In many parts of the world Ramadan is celebrated with spiritual music. Enjoy this Ramadan song by contemporary Muslim recording artist Maher Zain:

Sources: Arab News, Saudi Gazette, ramadan2014.net, The Windsor Star, Time Magazine

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June 29, 2014 Posted by | Archeology, Islam | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Happy Ramadan! Ramadan Kareem!

Sam “breaking the fast” on the second evening of Ramadan with Dr. Wael Saykali and Dr. Safi and Eman Kaskas.

Celebrating my first Ramadan in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

In all three major Abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) religious holidays play an important role in celebrating our faith in the God of Abraham. Here in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, I’ll be participating in my first Ramadan observance with my Muslim friends. There is an air of excitement as this holiday begins.

Ramadan (Arabic: رمضان‎ Ramaḍān; variations Persian: Ramazan‎; Urdu: Ramzān; Turkish: Ramazan) has arrived. It is being celebrated July 20th through August 18th. It is the ninth month of the lunar Islamic calendar, which lasts 29 or 30 days according to the visual sightings of the crescent moon.

Muslims around the world refrain from eating and drinking during the daylight hours. The thawab (spiritual rewards) of fasting are believed to be many, but during this special month, they are said to be multiplied. Muslims fast during this lunar month for the sake of demonstrating submission to God. They also offer more prayers and Qur’an recitations.

Families and friends enjoy Iftar meals and banquets 

Each evening at sunset, families and friends will gather for the fast-breaking meal (or “break-fast) known as Iftar. The meal starts with the eating of three dates — just as Muhammad used to do. Then it’s time for the Maghrib prayer, which is the fourth of the five daily Muslim prayers, after which the main meal is served.

Over time, Iftar has grown into large family dinners and even banquet festivals. This is a time of fellowship with families, friends and surrounding communities, but may also occupy larger spaces at mosques or banquet halls, where a hundred or more may gather at a time.

High school students from Jeddah’s British International School unload more than one ton of food they collected to be distributed to poor immigrant families in their city.

Generosity and sacrificial giving

Charity is very important in Islam, and even more so during Ramadan. The zakat is obligatory as one of the pillars of Islam; a fixed percentage required to be given by those with savings. The sadaqa is voluntary charity and is given above and beyond what is required from the obligation of zakat. Muslims believe that all good deeds are more handsomely rewarded during Ramadan than in any other month of the year. Consequently, many will choose this time to give a larger portion, if not all, of the zakat for which they are obligated to give. In addition, many will also use this time to give a larger portion of sadaqa in order to maximize the reward they believe will await them on the Day of Judgment.

In many Muslim countries, it is not uncommon to see people giving more food to the poor and the homeless, and even to see large public areas for the poor to come and break their fast. It is said that if a person helps a fasting person to break their fast, then they receive a reward for that fast, without diminishing the reward that the fasting person got for their fast.

Even in non-Muslim countries, no matter how small the Muslim population, a consistent increase in charitable donations to both fellow Muslims and non-Muslims occurs during these days. In the US, for example, many Muslim communities throughout the country, participate in contributing food, clothes and non-perishable food items to local food banks and homeless shelters.

Jeddah British International School students collected over a ton of food

Eman Kaskas with high schoolers from the British International School with some of the food that will be distributed to needy families during the 30-day Ramadan holiday.

The British International School of Jeddah offers the International Bachaluriate (IB) program—a high school college preparatory degree that is recognized around the world. An important part of the IB program is Creativity Action Service (CAS) similar to community service programs provided by many American high schools.  Students are required to do 150 hours of community service.

A major Ramadan “food drive” under the leadership of Eman Kaskas is a part of CAS’s program.  “I am always so touched by the community effort and the involvement of all the students including kindergarteners,” Eman says. “We have carried this out for the last 12 years. It keeps getting better year after year.”

This year students from Jeddah’s British International School collected more than ton of food that will be distributed during Ramadan to Jeddah’s poorer immigrant population.

Eman Kaskas, explains, “It’s my hope that these students will fully understand the message they are sending with their gifts.” She says, “It’s like a mustard seed that we are planting today, and I’m very grateful to know that we’re planting it in good soil.” She wants these students to remember when they have families of their own, that they have a responsibility to raise civicly-minded children who will make an important contribution to society.

Special days during Ramadan: Laylat al-Qadr and Eid ul-Fitr

Sometimes referred to as “the night of decree or measures,” Laylat al-Qadr is considered the most holy night of the Islamic year. Muslims believe that it is the night in which the Qur’an was first revealed to the prophet Muhammad by the Archangel Gabriel.

The Muslim holiday of Eid ul-Fitr (Arabic: عيد الفطر‎, festivity of breaking the fast), sometimes spelled in English as Eid al-Fitr, marks the end of Ramadan and the beginning of the next lunar month called Shawwal in Arabic. This first day of the following month is declared after another crescent new moon has been sighted. This first day of Shawwal is called Eid ul-Fitr. Eid Ul-Fitr, may also be a reference towards the festive nature of having endured the month of fasting successfully and returning to the more natural disposition of being able to eat and drink.

The following is a children’s Ramadan video that explains the spiritual significance of this Muslim holiday. Muslim children celebrate Ramadan in much the same way Jewish and Christian children celebrate Hanukkah and Christmas.
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July 21, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment