Children, exempted from the obligatory fasting during the month of Ramadan, receive lunch at Sonia Shah Memorial School.
By Karin Ronnow | Sonia Shah Organization | 22 June, 2017
Ramadan Mubarak to all our Muslim friends around the world!
Ramadan is the Islamic holy month, a celebration of the period in 610 A.D. when the Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) received the initial revelations of the Quran.
In recognition of this holy occasion, Muslims fast — no food or water — from dawn to dusk for 30 days. “Fasting is seen as a way to cleanse the soul and have empathy for those in the world who are hungry and less fortunate,” according to history.com.
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, and begins and ends with the sighting of a new crescent moon. This year, it began May 26 and will end this weekend, between June 24 and 26. The end of the holiday is celebrated with Eid al-Fitr, a three-day festival and one of Islam’s major holidays.
“Ramadan is about to end, and as Muslims look forward to Eid celebrations, we should also reflect on the blessed month and on our lives,” said Iram Shah, chairwoman of the Sonia Shah Organization (SSO).
“Ramadan is about self-constraint, love, peace, and giving back to humanity. Islam, which means submission, teaches us to live a meaningful life while perusing our interests and passions. It urges us to respect all religions, beliefs and people. It prohibits violence and promotes forgiveness. Ramadan showcases these traits and helps us to practice them for the rest of the year,” she said.
ISLAM IN THE WORLD
Islam is the world’s second largest religion, after Christianity, but the fastest growing, with 1.8 billion followers as of 2015, according to the Pew Research Center.
In the United State, there are 3.3 million Muslims, or about 1 percent of the population. The first mosque here was built in the 1920s in North Dakota by Lebanese immigrants, according to history.com. The nation’s oldest surviving mosque was constructed in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in the 1930s.
Muslims believe Muhammad (peace be upon him) was the final prophet in a line of prophets — including Adam, Abraham, Moses and Jesus — chosen by God to act as messengers and teach mankind, according to history.com. Born in Mecca in 570 A.D., he became a merchant who periodically retreated to a cave in Mount Hira, “ruminating on the social ills of the city.”
On such a retreat during the month of Ramadan in 610 A.D., he started receiving revelations from God, or Allah, via the angel Gabriel. The revelations continued for 23 years and were compiled by his followers in the Quran, which formed the basis for Islam.
At the heart of the religion are the Five Pillars of Islam:
Children drawing cold water from the taps at Sonia Shah Memorial School, Kangra, Pakistan.
* Shahada (declaration of faith);
* salat (prayer);
* zakat (charitable giving);
* sawm (fasting);
* and hajj (pilgramage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia).
“The founding of Islam by Muhammad came at a time when the newfound wealth of Arabs in Mecca had led them to ignore the plight of the poor,” Karen Armstrong wrote in Fields of Blood. “Instead of hoarding their wealth and ignoring the plight of the poor, Muslims were exhorted to take responsibility for one another and feed the destitute, even when they were hungry themselves. They traded the irascibility of jahiliyyah [pre-Islamic age of ignorance and barbarism] for the traditional Arab virtue of hilm — forbearance, patience, and mercy.
“By caring for the vulnerable, freeing slaves, and performing small acts of kindness on a daily, even hourly basis, they believed that they would gradually acquire a responsible, compassionate spirit and purge themselves of selfishness,” Armstrong wrote.
Fasting is at the heart of Ramadan’s month-long period of self-restraint and self-reflection. But Muslims are also expected to avoid unkind thoughts and words, say special prayers and make a significant contribution to improving the lives of the poor.
Fasting begins at sunrise each day and concludes at sunset. Pre-pubescent children and adults who are sick, elderly, pregnant, nursing or traveling are exempt.
“Fasting is seen as a way to purify spiritually as well as physically — a time to detach from material pleasures and be closer to God,” the Telegraph (UK) newspaper reported June 4. “The act of fasting is also believed to increase Muslims’ piety, reminding them that others are less fortunate than themselves.”
Throughout the month, Muslims carry on with their lives, going to work and school. Other Ramadan practices include:
SUHOOR: The meal taken in the morning, before dawn on each day of fasting.
IFTAR: The big communal meal served at sunset each day to break the day’s fast, the “break-fast.” Tradition calls for breaking the fast with a date and either water or a yogurt drink, followed by the maghrib prayer, then a full-course meal.
ZAKAT: The obligatory charity to the poor and needy. This is expected of all Muslims throughout the year, but many Muslims choose to give generously during Ramadan.
RAMADAN & SSO
Sonia Shah (right) and her mother, Iram Shah.
This year, SSO installed a cooling device on several taps at the Sonia Shah Memorial School water-filtration plant in Kangra, Pakistan. This ensures that all students and villagers have cold, clean drinking water throughout Ramadan and Eid.
“Ramadan has a personal significance for me, as Sonia died on the second day of Eid, two days before leaving for college,” Shah said of her daughter, who started SSO. “She was fasting all month and was very excited to start her college life.
“Sonia wanted all girls to have the same opportunities as she had. Her legacy continues. Now we are helping girls in Pakistan who never before had a chance to go to school, and girls in the U.S. who had little chance to attend college to get education,” Iram said.
In the next few days, the sighting of the new crescent moon will marks the end of Ramadan and the beginning of Eid. Most schools and offices close during this period, as many people travel to spend the holiday with friends and relatives.
In the United States, then-First Lady Hillary Clinton hosted the first Eid dinner at the White House in 1996, a tradition that continued throughout the presidencies of Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration, however, has announced it will not hold an Eid dinner.
To mark Eid, some friends and family exchange gifts. Many take the opportunity to perform charitable acts. Please consider making a donation to SSO.
“As we end Ramadan, change one girl’s life!” Shah said.
- History of Ramadan: http://www.history.com/topics/holidays/ramadan
- What is Ramadan: http://www.beliefnet.com/faiths/islam/articles/what-is-ramadan.aspx
- Muslim & Islam in the world: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/05/26/muslims-and-islam-key-findings-in-the-u-s-and-around-the-world/
- Breaking the fast: https://www.thoughtco.com/ramadan-iftar-breakfast-2004620
- Understanding Ramadan: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/0/what-is-ramadan-and-when-is-it/
- What is Zakat: https://www.islamichelp.org.uk/zakat/