Muslims believe that during the first night of Ramadan God began to reveal the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). The Quran is the Muslim holy book. Many figures that appear in the pages of the Old Testament, such as Moses and Abraham, are in the Quran, as are Jesus Christ and his mother, Mary. The holy book contains laws for serving God as well as rules for living and conducting business.
The month of Ramadan, which begins on Tuesday, July 9, this year, is the holiest month and the ninth on the Islamic lunar calendar.
During the 30 days of Ramadan, Muslims fast completely during daylight hours. Fasting to Muslims is defined as abstaining from eating, drinking and sexual intercourse from dawn until sunset. Muslims prepare for the fast with a light meal before dawn and eat an evening main meal at sunset.
Besides giving up all food, liquid, tobacco or sex during the month of fasting, they must also abstain from lying, cheating, back-biting, gossip, false witness and other bad habits. During the month of fasting, people put food and other distractions aside to concentrate on building a closer relationship with God.
Some people may say when we start the fast that we hate it, but by the end of the month we hate to end it. If people fully understood all the blessings that can come to them during Ramadan, they would wish that Ramadan lasted all year.
Each celebration of Ramadan should make Muslims draw so much closer to God that it becomes more natural to put aside the bad habits people are consciously trying to refrain from during Ramadan. Muslims should be better people this year than they were last year from Ramadan.
Before dawn during Ramadan, Muslims are encouraged to meet with God for special prayers. We wake up early and perform prayers. We can enjoy the quiet and give that special time to God. It gives us a special sweetness. Then we eat a light meal.
There are physical benefits of fasting. The body can cleanse itself during the fast, and people can lose weight. But the spiritual benefits are even more long-lasting.
Fasting is practiced in the Jewish and Christian faiths as well.
During Ramadan, Muslims are encouraged to perform acts of charity. Those excused from the fast include people who are sick or traveling and women who are pregnant or nursing. They may make up their days after Ramadan or pay a ransom to the poor.
In contrast to the Christian belief that grace will open the gates of heaven, Muslims believe they must earn their way on the Day of Judgment with good deeds. They believe that the good deeds they perform during Ramadan are multiplied and that God will honor their prayers and supplications in a very blessed way during Ramadan.
Besides the physical discipline and spiritual growth Ramadan fosters, Muslims believe it helps them understand the poor in a more tangible way. Feeling hunger helps Muslims identify with the poor better than a sermon or a lecture can.
Each Muslim must be responsible for feeding one poor person during Ramadan. Historically, Muslims have sent donations through established worldwide charities to help take care of poor families in countries such as Palestine, Sudan, Somalia and many other parts of the Muslim world.
This year, the shadow of genocide in Syria hovers over Ramadan. We can be in deeper prayer to help us establish peace on Earth.
For me and my family, this will be our first Ramadan in Augusta and we pray that we enjoy it. Amen.