Muslims throughout the world are observing Ramadan, also known as the month of fasting. Given the atrocities committed during this month by so-called Muslims, I find it necessary to give my view and understanding of the true obligations and purpose of this holy month.
The word Ramadan comes from the Arabic root ramad, which means scorching heat. This root signifies the burning desire of a seeker to connect with his or her Creator, the Almighty God. Fasting is not about merely abstaining from eating and drinking from pre-dawn to dusk. Its real purpose is spiritual cleansing and becoming a good human being. It is a month dedicated to burning sins over burning calories. The last ten days of Ramadan have a particular significance in the Islamic tradition.
Below are five things that practicing Muslims will be engaging in for the last ten days to achieve the real purpose of Ramadan.
Besides the obligatory five daily prayers, Muslims will carve out portions of their nights in supererogatory prayers known as Tahajjud. Waking up in the middle of the night for prayer is mentioned in the Quran, “Verily, getting up at night is the most potent means of subduing the self and most effective in respect of words of prayer” (73:7). Recitation of the Quran
Completing the entire recitation of the Quran during the month of Ramadan was a regular practice of the Prophet of Islam that Muslims will follow. Muslims are admonished to ponder over the message of the Quran by reciting it “slowly and thoughtfully” (73:5). Recitation of the Quran during any part of the day is desirable, however, reciting the Quran “at dawn is specially acceptable to God” (17:79).
Alms giving (fitrana)
It is reported that the Prophet of Islam would increase alms giving in the last ten days of Ramadan so much that his regular generosity was characterized to pick up to a forceful wind during the holy month. Following that example, Muslims will give fitrana, a charitable giving for the poor to also take part in the festivities of Eid-ul-Fitr (a festival that marks the end of fasting).
Retreat in the Mosque (Itikaf)
The Prophet of Islam would spend the last ten days of Ramadan in the mosque in total seclusion (Itikaf). Many Muslims will also retreat in the Mosques during the last ten days of Ramadan, away from their families and work. The purpose of Itikaf is to disassociate oneself from worldly pursuits altogether for a specified period of time and devote oneself completely to the pursuit of God.
The Night of Destiny
During the last ten days of Ramadan, Muslims will seek the night of destiny, which is mentioned in the Quran in these words: “And what should make thee know what the Night of Destiny is? The Night of Destiny is better than a thousand months” (97:3-4). This means that a single night in which one recognizes his/her Creator is better than a lifetime that is spent in ignorance.
The Prophet was asked what prayer should be recited during the night of destiny and he replied, “Say: O Allah, You are forgiving and You love to forgive, so forgive me.” In another tradition he stated, “Whoever stands (in prayer) in the night of destiny while nourishing his faith with self-evaluation, expecting reward from God, will have all of his previous sins forgiven.”
The Quran states that the night of destiny is “all peace til the rising of the dawn” (97:6). True peace is in finding the inner satisfaction of hearts, which according to the Quran, is in the remembrance of God (13:29). It is only when one is at peace with oneself that he/she can extend peace to others.
The last ten days of Ramadan will provide an opportunity for Muslims to practice these virtues. Muslims can ensure peace within their communities, and the society around them, by adopting these virtues in their daily lives and demonstrating the true meaning behind this most sacred time of the year.