Ramadan, Islam’s holy month of fasting, begins April 1. The month is packed with traditions, both religious and cultural, and for many Muslims, it is the highlight of each year. During Ramadan, Muslims give up all food, drink and sex from sunrise to sunset. However, this is just the bare minimum. Muslims are also expected not to sin, tell lies, swear or get angry, and they are supposed to dedicate as much time as possible toward worship.
During the day, Muslims still pray the daily prayers, and they often increase worship at night. After sunset and breaking the fast, most Muslims head to their local mosque to pray the final prayer of the day as well as a special prayer that only occurs during Ramadan, known by many names but most commonly “taraweeh.” The taraweeh prayer is often much longer than regular prayers and can extend from when the sun has set to midnight and sometimes past that. During this time, Muslims stand in prayer and listen to Qur’an, the Islamic holy book. Usually mosques will go through the entire Qur’an in taraweeh throughout the month of Ramadan.
The last 10 nights of Ramadan are extra special. These nights are the most intensive with Muslims often dedicating every second they can to the pursuit of Islam. Some Muslims even spend the entire 10 nights living in the mosque as the prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) used to do. In these 10 nights, one night is said to be Laylatul Qadr, the night of destiny. Muslims believe that during this night, everyone’s destiny for the year is decreed. Furthermore, the night is said to be worth 1,000 months or around 70 years. So to do a good deed on that night is worth doing that deed for 70 years and to do a bad deed that night is the same. However, it isn’t known which of the 10 nights it is on, though, the most popular opinion is the 27th of Ramadan.
The purpose of Ramadan is several fold. The first is it is a time to recenter oneself and bring Muslims back to their religion, their values and away from distractions. It pushes people to the brink of their determination, sacrificing every single vice along with food and water. It brings discipline back into the lives of those who may have strayed away from their goals and pushes those who haven’t even further in strengthening their willpower.
Along with that, Ramadan is intended to increase piety in Muslims. Not eating or drinking all day, knowing they’re doing it for something bigger than themselves, is a constant reminder of religion. Then, when Muslims finally can eat, they do so and then quickly head to the mosque and spend hours in worship.
Finally is the humanizing aspect of Ramadan. The fasting increases sympathy for those who are poor and in need, something desperately needed especially in the modern U.S. Most Americans are privileged in their access to sustenance and never have had to worry about food or water. During Ramadan, not only does one willfully give these things up and feel a fraction of the pain those in need do, but Muslims are also expected and heavily encouraged to give zakat, translated as “charity” but, literally, coming from the word for purification. As one gives away money while they are hungry and thirsty, it is believed they are purifying their souls. This is the crux of Ramadan: everything—not sinning, controlling emotions, restricting sexual desires, not eating or drinking, giving charity and dedicating free time to worship, all of it—is for the sake of purifying one’s soul from the evils of the previous year and preparing oneself for the next year.
Even those who are not Muslim can benefit from Ramadan. First, understanding the traditions of another group of people is always fun. One can also apply some of the core concepts of Ramadan into their own lives or at least try them out. Fasting a day, giving some charity, spending time away from distractions or pondering on life and purpose can increase anyone’s sense of gratitude, satisfaction and overall quality of life.