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Relish The Spirit Of Ramadan With These Essential Words

What does Ramadan mean?

One of the most important holidays in Islam is Ramadan, a month dedicated to daily fasts from dawn until sunset.

This time period is used as a way to physically and spiritually purify in order to bring the faithful closer to Allah (God). Observant Muslims don’t just refrain from food during the day—practitioners are encouraged to denounce all worldly pleasures, such as smoking, gossip, and even sex between married couples, during the daytime.

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Muslim calendar, and the word itself first made its appearance in the 1590s, deriving from the Turkish and Persian ramazan, which means “the hot month.” This is a reference to the summer. However, because the Islamic calendar is lunar-based, it is about 10 days shorter than the solar calendar. As a result, the dates of Ramadan change from year to year, so it is not always in the summer.

This sacred time is so much more than a fast. Ancient traditional prayers, customs, and even fast-breaking foods make this holy day what it is. We are going to share a few more things to know about holiday, starting with how to wish someone a happy Ramadan:

One common way to wish someone a good Ramadan at the beginning of the holiday is to say Ramadan mubarak. This expression means roughly “have a blessed Ramadan.”

Another common expression of goodwill for the holiday is Ramadan kareem, meaning “have a generous Ramadan.” It is said that this is a reference to the principle of acting generous towards others during Ramadan. However, there is some debate about this expression because it also seems to imply a hope that people will be generous to the listener, which goes against the principle of abstinence during the holiday.

ashra

The month of Ramadan is broken down into three ashras, or stages, each 10 days long. The word ashra itself means “ten” in Arabic. Each ashra includes prayers, or duas, and practices focused on a specific value.

The first ashra is Rehmat, which means “mercy.” During this ashra, observant Muslims reflect on all that Allah has provided them during the year.

The second ashra is Maghfirah, which is focused on forgiveness. As part of this ashra, Muslims are encouraged to ask Allah for forgiveness, as well as forgive others who may have wronged them.

The third and final ashra is Najat, salvation. This final ashra is a time for Muslims to pray to Allah to save them from Hell. As part of this final ashra is the celebration of Laylat al-Qadr, or the Night of Power. Read on to find out more about this celebration.

Laylat al-Qadr

Laylat al-Qadr, better known as the Night of Power, is considered the holiest night of the year for Muslims. The special celebration commemorates the night the Qur’an, the sacred text of Islam, was first revealed to Prophet Muhammad.

It is noted in the Qur’an that on the Night of Power: “Therein come down the angels and the Spirit by Allah’s permission, on every errand: Peace! … This until the rise of morn!” It is believed that the prayers you make that night will be heard and answered, so many Muslims spend the night in deep meditation and prayer.

While these details are provided, the specific date of Laylat al-Qadr isn’t given, and as a result it varies depending on the kind of Islam practiced. In Shia Islam, for instance, it is generally held that Laylat al-Qadr is on the 23rd night of Ramadan, while Sunni Islam generally practices it on the 27th night of Ramadan. Regardless of the exact date, it’s one of the most important aspects of Ramadan.

suhoor

During Ramadan, before the sun rises and the day officially begins, fasting Muslims should indulge in a suhoor, or a light meal before the sun rises. Since practicing Muslims cannot eat or drink throughout the daylight hours, it is imperative that they make good use of this pre-dawn meal.

Suhoor should include at least two hefty glasses of water and food that will help release energy throughout the day. Traditionally, dates are part of this meal plan. Eating foods that are rich in fiber, are healthy fats, and contain (or are) fruits and vegetables will make the day far more manageable.

Suhoor is the word in Arabic for this meal. In Persian or Urdu, suhoor is known as sehri.

iftar

While there are undoubtedly many who savor and honor every moment of fasting during Ramadan, we’d bet more than a few are happy to implement iftar. Iftar is the time of day after sunset when Muslims break their fast. Iftar is fairly literal when it comes to its meaning, translating from the Arabic for “breaking of the fast.”

Typically, Muslims break their fast with dates, an oblong, fleshy fruit. Dates are the food of choice because they are the staple fruit of the Arabian region and are believed to have been eaten by the Prophet Muhammad to break his fast, according to the Qur’an.

But there are many foods that have become iftar staples for cultures across the globe as well, like samosas, variations on fruit salads (the spicier the better!), and sweet drinks flavored with rose syrup.

In Morocco, iftar is more commonly known as ftoor, from the Arabic for “breakfast.”

Ramadan foods

Suhoor isn’t the only ritual meal for celebrating Ramadan. In fact, there are many. And for all of these meals, there are festive dishes made for the holiday. Every culture and community has their own favorite dishes. We couldn’t possibly cover them all here, but here are some dishes you might see during Ramadan:

Harira

Harira is a Moroccan soup made from a variety of vegetables with lentils, chickpeas, and coriander. This hearty, spicy soup dish helps you feel full for longer.

Fattoush

Fattoush is a Lebanese salad made with fresh vegetables and fried pieces of pita bread. While the ingredients included vary, typically fattoush includes cucumbers, tomatoes, and mint.

Chaat

Chaat, or chat, is a savory dish served throughout the Indian subcontinent. There are countless varieties of chaat, but they are all made with fried dough. Often chaat includes chickpeas and potatoes and spices like cumin and dried mango powder. Generally, chaat is served with dipping sauces (chutneys).

Samosa

Samosas are another popular dish throughout the Indian subcontinent for Ramadan—and year-round. Samosas are Indian fried turnovers often filled with minced meat or vegetables and spices. Like chaat, samosas are often served with dipping sauces.

Fanous Ramadan

Another part of Ramadan celebrations in some cultures are fanous, often known as Fanous Ramadan. Fanous, or fanoos, means “lamp” or “light” in Arabic. These fanous are decorative lanterns, often square, hung for the holiday. While this practice originated in Egypt, these “Ramadan lanterns” are found throughout the world.

According to legend, during the 10th century CE, when the Caliph Al-Mu’izz li-Din Allah arrived in Cairo on the first night of Ramadan, he was greeted with children holding fanous. From there, hanging these festive lights became a tradition to celebrate the holiday—in addition to having a practical purpose. While today the lanterns are merely decorative, they remind us of a time when it would have been difficult to break the fast at night without a fanous.

Eid-al-Fitr

After a long month of fasting and sacrifice, Muslims end Ramadan with a three-day celebration called Eid-al-Fitr or Eid-ul-Fitr. It literally means “the festival of breaking the fast.”

During this time, gifts are exchanged and festive meals are enjoyed. It begins with the first sighting of the new moon—marking the end of Ramadan and the beginning of the next month—so Muslims often have to wait until the night before to verify the date. When the sighting is confirmed, Eid is declared on news outlets and in mosques so the fun can begin: coming together as a community for the Eid prayer first thing in the morning, enjoying traditional desserts, visiting families, decorating, and even celebrating at a carnival.

The best part about this holiday is that all of the celebrations are preceded by the giving of charity to the poor.

Chaand Raat

On the eve of Eid on the Indian subcontinent, many observant Muslims celebrate Chaand Raat. This means “Night of the moon.” During Chaand Raat, people gather outside to observe the new moon that marks the beginning of Eid. Beyond this, Chaand Raat is a time to finish preparing for Eid—buying the ingredients you need for the festive meal, baking sweets, and getting yourself ready.

As part of the celebration, girls and women will typically get henna patterns done on their hands and, in past generations, wear colored bangles. Henna is a temporary dye made from a plant that creates a reddish-orange color.

zakat

As the third Pillar of Islam, zakat goes far beyond the celebration of Ramadan. The noun zakat means “religious tax.”  Basically, zakat is a charitable contribution for the poor that the wealthy of the community are required to pay. Zakat, from the Arabic zakah, is also known as sadaqat.

Zakat is often distributed just before the three-day festival of Eid-ul-Fitr. Ramadan itself is a time of charity and giving, beyond the obligatory annual zakat. For example, feeding those in need is a good way to compensate for not being able to fast (e.g., for health reasons).

sawm

Another Pillar of Islam that Ramadan highlights is sawm, meaning “fasting.” Fasting serves as a reminder of religious duty and of the need to help anyone who is less fortunate. As we already know, during Ramadan observant Muslims who are able to do so fast during the day. The fast is over when the adhan, or call to prayer, is made.

Sawm, also spelled siyam, comes from Arabic. The Persian word for this practice is ruzeh, or rozah.

Sawm is not the only Pillar of Islam that is observed during Ramadan. Another important Pillar of Islam for Ramadan is …

salat

Fasting isn’t the only component of Ramadan. As with any traditional religion, prayer is an essential part of celebrations. And this is especially true for Muslims reciting salat, or salah,  the prayers said five times a day.

Of course, these are important beyond Ramadan, as they are the second of the Pillars of Islam. The word salat doesn’t have a direct English translation, but it does have Arabic roots, derived from ṣalā, which means “prayer.”

According to this Pillar of Islam, God ordered Muslims to pray to him at least five set times a day: Salat al-fajr is the prayer done at dawn, before sunrise. Salat al-zuhr is the prayer at midday, after the sun passes its highest point, while Salat al-‘asr is honored during the late part of the afternoon. Salat al-maghrib is prayed just after sunset. And finally, Salat al-‘isha happens between sunset and midnight.

taraweeh

Ramadan is a reflective holiday, but it is also a communal and celebratory one. Taraweeh prayers are practically synonymous with Ramadan and are typically performed in mosques alongside other Muslim community members. The word itself comes from the Arabic for “to rest and relax,” which is fitting because taraweeh, also spelled tarawih, is really a form of meditative prayer.

Taraweeh prayers involve reading the many chapters of the Qur’an over the course of the month. The prayer also involves performing many rakahs—prescribed movements involved in Islamic prayer—in order to accommodate the many, sometimes long, chapters being read each night. The idea is to read the entirety of the Qur’an as a community by the end of the month.

masjid

Ramadan is a time for the Muslim community to come together both at home and at the masjid or musjid, the Arabic term for mosque. During the month, and especially during taraweeh, observant Muslims will spend lots of time in prayer and discussion at the masjid.

For many people, it will be difficult to gather at the masjid during Ramadan currently due to the coronavirus pandemic. Nevertheless, many communities are working together to create a safe, holy Ramadan celebration through gatherings outdoors or changing prayer times. While it might be a different kind of Ramadan this year, it is still a special time for millions of Muslims around the world. To all of those who celebrate, Ramadan mubarak.  

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