Ramadan or Mah-e-Seyam: A month of Fasting, Charity and Piety
Ramadan like the other months in the Islamic lunar calendar begins with the sighting of the new moon over the horizon. Depending on the geographical locations, it appears with a difference of a day or two in various parts of the world pronouncing the arrival of the holy moments.
The Moon in the Islamic Calendar
Ramadan, also known as Mah-e-Seyam, the Holy month of fasting is 9th month in the Islamic calendar that succeeds Shaaban and precedes Shawwal. Any month in the Islamic calendar always begins and ends when after completing the full circle the new moon appears again over the horizon. A month can be of twenty nine days or thirty days but can never be of twenty eight days or thirty one days, as the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) has said:
“The month (can be) 29 nights (i.e. days), and do not fast till you see the moon, and if the sky is overcast, then complete Sha’ban as thirty days.” (Sahih Al Bukhari, Narrated by Abdullah bin Umar)
At another place the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) has said:
“Do not fast (for Ramadan) before the coming of the month until you sight the moon or complete the number (of thirty days); then fast until you sight the moon or complete the number (of thirty days).” (Abu Dawood, Narrated by Hudhayfah)
Describing the new moon, Quran says:
“They question you about the new moon. Tell them: it is to determine the periods of time for the benefit of mankind and for the Hajj (pilgrimage).” (Surah Al Baqara, Ayah 189)
Because the important prayers and obligations are associated with these months, we normally look for the new moon on three occasions. (1.) When Ramadan begins. (2.) When it ends. (3.) When begins Dhul Hijja – the month of Hajj.
After sighting the new moon on these occasions, while it is acceptable to greet each other, as a Muslim we need to recite the Dua (the prayer) that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) has advised us as confirmed by the following:
When the Prophet of Allah (peace be upon him) saw the new moon, he said: “A new moon of good and right guidance; a new moon of good and right guidance; a new moon of good and right guidance. I believe in Him Who created you” three times. He would then say: “Praise be to Allah Who has made such and such a month to pass and has brought such and such a month.” (Abu Dawood, Narrated by Qatadah)
At another place, it is reported:
When the Prophet, peace be upon him, saw moon he would say, “Allah is the Greatest! O Allah, make it shine upon us in peace, faith, security, safety, and with the power to do what You love and are pleased with! O moon! Your Lord and our Lord is Allah.” (At-Tabarani, Reported by Abdallah bin Umar)
In this Dua lies an important point. When we say O moon! Your Lord and our Lord is Allah, we admit that like us the moon is also the creature of the Almighty Allah. Hence as it follows the Lord despite not being as accountable to the Almighty as we are, we must also follow Him in every respect.
Ramadan, the Holy Month
After the new moon appears over the horizon pronouncing the beginning of Ramadan, blessings of the Almighty begin to shower on us. Allah’s Apostle said:
“When the month of Ramadan starts, the gates of the heaven are opened and the gates of Hell are closed and the devils are chained.” (Sahih Al Bukhari, Narrated by Abu Huraira)
It is also reported that every night and at the time of Iftaar – the time when we end the fast, Allah Almighty forgives.
The main thing one should keep in minds that unlike Hajj that is performed only in the month of Dhul Hijja there is no prayer in Ramadan that is not being offered in other months. The difference is just of importance and obligations. The most important prayer that one performs in Ramadan is Saum or Fasting that is obligatory for every Muslim. Quran says:
“O believers! Fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you so that you may learn self-restraint.” (Surah Al Baqara, Ayah 183)
Describing the importance of fasting, the Prophet said:
“Whoever established prayers on the night of Qadr out of sincere faith and hoping for a reward from Allah, then all his previous sins will be forgiven; and whoever fasts in the month of Ramadan out of sincere faith, and hoping for a reward from Allah, then all his previous sins will be forgiven.” (Sahih Al Bukhari, Narrated by Abu Huraira)
At another instance, Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) said:
“Ramadan, a blessed month, has come to you during which Allah has made it obligatory for you to fast. In it the gates of Heaven are opened, the gates of al-Jahim are locked, and the rebellious devils are chained. In it Allah has a night which is better than a thousand months. He who is deprived of its good has indeed suffered deprivation.” (Narrated by Abu Hurayrah Al Tirmidhi. Ahmad and Nasa’i transmitted it)
Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) has also said:
“When the first night of Ramadan comes, the devils and the rebellious jinn are chained, the gates of Hell are locked and not one of them is opened; the gates of Paradise are opened and not one of them is locked; and a crier calls, ‘You who desire what is good, come forward, and you who desire evil, refrain.’ Some are freed from Hell by Allah, and that happens every night.” (Narrated AbuHurayrah. Tirmidhi and Ibn Majah transmitted it. Ahmad transmitted it from a man. Tirmidhi said this is a gharib tradition)
Virtues of Suhur (pre-dawn meal), Saum (fast) and dos and don’ts while fasting
Saum i.e. the fast begins with Suhur – the pre-dawn meal and ends with Iftaar – the food taken at the dusk. Taking Suhur is Sunnah and though it is not mandatory, Prophet Mohammad (peace and blessings be upon him) had advised the Ummah to take the pre-dawn meal i.e. Suhur to begin the fast. Describing the virtues of Suhur the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said:
“Take Suhur as there is a blessing in it.” (Sahih Al Bukhari, Narrated by Anas bin Malik)
The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) also termed it as the difference between the fast of the Muslims and of those from other faiths. As he said:
“The difference between our fasting and that of the people of the Book is eating shortly before dawn.” (Sahih Muslim, Narrated by Amr ibn al-‘As)
At another place the Prophet (peace and blessing be upon him) said:
“I used to take the “Suhur” meal with my family and hasten so as to catch the Fajr (Morning Prayer) with Allah’s Apostle.” (Sahih Al Bukhari Narrated Sahl bin Sad)
There is no special Dua for Suhur. One can very well begin Suhur by reciting Bismillah and end it with any Dua that is normally recited after taking lunch, dinner or any other food. Likewise, you don’t need to verbally intend to begin your fast. Niyyat or intention has to be in heart and except Hajj and Umrah there is no other prayer for which verbal intention is required.
The best time for Suhur is just before Azan-e-Fajr. Those who take this pre-dawn meal very early or those who take it very late, both are wrong. In following tradition Zaid bin Thabit described the suitable time for Suhur:
“We took the ‘Suhur’ (the meal taken before dawn while fasting is observed) with the Prophet and then stood up for the (morning) prayer. I asked him how long the interval between the two (Suhur and prayer) was. He replied, ‘The interval between the two was just sufficient to recite fifty to Sixth ‘Ayat.’” (Sahih Al Bukhari, Narrated by Anas)
Once finished with Suhur now we are fasting and while fasting we are under the continuous divine blessings. The Almighty Allah has promised unique reward for the fasting people. He Himself says:
“Fasting is Mine and it is I who give reward for it. [A man] gives up his sexual passion, his food and his drink for my sake. Fasting is like a shield, and he who fasts has two joys: a joy when he breaks his fast and a joy when he meets his Lord. The change in the breath of the mouth of him who fasts is better in Allah’s estimation than the smell of musk.” (Hadith Qudsi)
And the Prophet said:
“Fasting is a shield (or a screen or a shelter). So, the person observing fasting should avoid sexual relation with his wife and should not behave foolishly and impudently, and if somebody fights with him or abuses him, he should tell him twice, ‘I am fasting.”
The Prophet added, “By Him in Whose Hands my soul is, the smell coming out from the mouth of a fasting person is better in the sight of Allah than the smell of musk. (Allah says about the fasting person), ‘He has left his food, drink and desires for My sake. The fast is for Me. So I will reward (the fasting person) for it and the reward of good deeds is multiplied ten times.” (Sahih Al Bukhari, Narrated by Abu Huraira)
Dos and Don’ts while fasting
While fasting what one should do and what one shouldn’t? A fasting person should do every good work and should refrain from every evil. If a fasting person doesn’t refrain from evil and foul talk, his fast would be unacceptable. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said:
“Whoever does not give up false statements (i.e. telling lies), and evil deeds, and speaking bad words to others, Allah is not in need of his (fasting) leaving his food and drink.” (Sahih Al Bukhari, Narrated by Abu Huraira)
While fasting if anyone eats or takes any food by mistake then there is no harm on him. As soon as he realizes his mistake he should stop and continue with his fast. The Prophet (peace and blessing be upon him) said:
“If somebody eats or drinks forgetfully then he should complete his fast, for what he has eaten or drunk, has been given to him by Allah.” (Sahih Al Bukhari, Narrated by Abu Huraira)
At another occasion the Prophet said:
“Neither vomiting, nor emission, nor cupping breaks the fast of the one who is fasting.” (Abu Dawood, Narrated by a man from the Companions)
Saum i.e. the fast ends with Iftaar at the time of sunset. As the sun sets, one should immediately complete the fast without waiting further. The Prophet (peace and blessing be upon him) was used to end his fats with dates. It is better if one follows the Prophet (peace and blessing be upon him) and ends the fast using dates. But it is not mandatory. One can take water, milk or whatever food easily available to end the fast. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said:
“When one of you is fasting, he should break his fast with dates; but if he cannot get any, then (he should break his fast) with water, for water is purifying.” (Abu Dawood Narrated by Salman ibn Amir)
Like Suhur, there is no special Dua for Iftaar also and one should end the fast reciting Bismillah. The time for Suhur and Iftaar both are very important. These are the times one Allah the Almighty listens to one’s prayers. Let us pray to Allah that He bestow on us the power to utilize these precious days to seek forgiveness from Him.
Tarawih, the Special Night Prayer, is normally offered in congregation during Ramadan. Tarawih, the Special Night Prayer is the first prayer that Muslims offer immediately after the new moon pronounces the beginning of the Holy month Ramadan. Tarawih is sunnah for both men and women, and they are to be performed after the obligatory Isha prayer and before the performance of the witr. They should be prayed in sets of two rakat each. It is allowed to pray them after witr, though, this is not the best thing to do. They may be performed until the end of the night.
The prayer that lasts for more than an hour is offered in congregation. Men, women and children throng the mosques in their vicinity to catch this important prayer. Prophet Mohammad (peace and blessings be upon him) during his lifetime had led this prayer in congregation on three consecutive nights. On fourth, a large number of companions were waiting for Prophet Mohammad (peace and blessings be upon him) to lead the night prayer as he had done in last three nights. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) however did not come out. The next morning he said that the prayer that they offered in congregation was enjoyed by the Almighty Allah so much so that he feared the prayer would be made obligatory. This was why he did not lead the prayer on fourth night. The incident is reported by Aisha, the respectable wife of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and the mother of believers in Sahih Al Bukhari:
“One night Allah’s Apostle offered the prayer in the Mosque and the people followed him. The next night he also offered the prayer and too many people gathered. On the third and the fourth nights more people gathered, but Allah’s Apostle did not come out to them. In the morning he said, ‘I saw what you were doing and nothing but the fear that it (i.e. the prayer) might be enjoined on you, stopped me from coming to you.’ And that happened in the month of Ramadan.” (Sahih Al Bukhari, Narrated by Aisha Siddiqua)
Before and after this incident the companions of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) were used to offer this prayer individually or in smaller groups. It continued even after his death and also during the tenure of Abu Bakra, the first caliph. Second Caliph Omar when he came in power however advised the people to offer Tarawih in congregation. Since then the Muslim Ummah is offering this prayer in congregation everywhere in the world. Imam Bukhari has reported this in his Sahih:
Allah’s Apostle said, “Whoever prayed at night the whole month of Ramadan out of sincere Faith and hoping for a reward from Allah, then all his previous sins will be forgiven.”
Ibn Shihab (a sub-narrator) said, “Allah’s Apostle died and the people continued observing that (i.e. Tarawih offered individually, not in congregation), and it remained as it was during the Caliphate of Abu Bakr and in the early days of ‘Umar’s Caliphate.”
‘Abdur Rahman bin ‘Abdul Qari said, “I went out in the company of ‘Umar bin Al Khattab one night in Ramadan to the mosque and found the people praying in different groups. A man praying alone or a man praying with a little group behind him. So, ‘Umar said, “In my opinion I would better collect these (people) under the leadership of one qari (reciter) (i.e. let them pray in congregation!).”
So, he made up his mind to congregate them behind Ubai bin Ka’b. Then on another night I went again in his company and the people were praying behind their reciter. On that, ‘Umar remarked, “What an excellent Bid’a (i.e. innovation in religion) this is! But the prayer which they do not perform, and sleep at its time is better than the one they are offering.” He meant the prayer in the last part of the night. (In those days) people used to pray in the early part of the night.” (Sahih Al Bukhari, Narrated by Abu Huraira)
Tarawih, Qayamul Lail or Tahajjud
Tarawih is not any new prayer that is offered in Ramadan. In fact this is same as Tahajjud or Qayamul Lail or the Night Prayer that is normally offered every night during the entire year. The companions of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) were used to offer this prayer in congregation, and for hours. So much so that some of them were used to get exhausted. Hence what they would do. They would offer four Rakah and then take rest for a while before offering the remaining four Rakah. Due to this people started referring this Tahajjud or Qayamul Lail in Ramadan as Tarawih, the Arabic world that means taking rest.
Tarawih is Sunnah of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and is not obligatory. It can be offered individually or in congregation. If a person has memorized enough parts of the Holy Quran, he can offer Tarawih alone if he wishes so. Those who cannot recite from Quran, can join for Tarawaih so that they can at least listen to the Holy Book.
It is believed that Holy Quran had been descended on Prophet Mohammad (peace and blessings be upon him) in Ramadan. It doesn’t mean the entire Quran was descended on the prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) in Ramadan. The Quran in fact has been descended on the prophet (peace and blessings upon him) in parts. It was Ramadan when Mohammad (peace and blessings be upon him) was made prophet and the first five Ayah of Surah Alaq were recited to him. Recitation of the Holy Quran in Ramadan hence becomes more significant, and part or whole of the Holy Quran is recited by Huffaz – the people who memorise the Quran while offering Tarawih prayer.
Number of Rakat in Tarawih
Prophet Mohammad (peace and blessings be upon him) was used to offer the night prayers for hours and during Ramadan or in other months he used to offer eleven rakat as Tahajjud and Tarawih. Aisha the respected wife of the prophet and the mother of the believers confirmed this, as reported in Sahih Bukhari, in a very clear term:
I asked ‘Aisha, “How is the prayer of Allah’s Apostle during the month of Ramadan.” She said, “Allah’s Apostle never exceeded eleven Rakat in Ramadan or in other months; he used to offer four Rakat – do not ask me about their beauty and length, then four Rakat, do not ask me about their beauty and length, and then three Rakat.” Aisha further said, “I said, ‘O Allah’s Apostle! Do you sleep before offering the Witr prayer?’ He replied, ‘O ‘Aisha! My eyes sleep but my heart remains awake!’ (Sahih Al Bukhari, Narrated by Abu Salma bin Abdur Rahman)
So it is better for us if we offer Tarawih lengthy and eleven rakat.
Some people think if they finish the entire Quran in seven or ten or fifteen days, then they don’t need to pray Tarawih. This is wrong. Tarawih is nothing to do with the complete recitation of Quran. It has to be offered during entire Ramadan.
Moreover, those who have already offered Tarawih prayer, they don’t need to offer Qayamul Lail again as we have already noted that Tarawih and Qayamul Lail are same and in Ramadan as well as other months, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) never exceeded eleven rakat.