Date Tree
Date tree

O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that you may (learn) self-restraint. (Surah 2:183)

Human beings have found a variety of ways of establishing a balance between attending to their day-to-day concerns and keeping in contact with the matters that give their lives meaning. One way of doing this is to regularly set aside time to be kept in a ritual manner: days, weeks or months that are defined with certain prescriptions that bring the believer out of normal space-time and into a more reflective environment.

Such is the sabbath or holy day, a regular weekly event which often includes a visit to church, synagogue, temple or mosque. Most religions also have more extended periods of reflection, often defined with special pratices such as seclusion, fasting or other dietary restrictions.

For Muslims, this is the month of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. For an entire month believers will fast during the day. Come night one is allowed to eat and drink, and following the example set by Muhammad himself, the daily fast is traditionally broken with water and dates. According to the Qu’ran, one is allowed to eat until there is sufficient light that “you can plainly distinguish a white thread from a black thread”—at which point the restrictions against eating and drinking again come into play.

Fasting (sawm) is one of the five pillars of Islam. The month-long fast is an exercise in self-discipline that also fosters compassion, in that it allows Muslims to experience some measure of deprivation. This kind of strict regime is intended to help believers to concentrate on their faith; it is a time for contemplation, when it is common to spend several hours in the mosque praying and studying the Qu’ran.

In addition to the regular five daily prayers, during Ramadan a special prayer called the Tarawen (‘night prayer’) is recited. The 27th day of the month is Lailat-ul-Qadr (‘night of power’), believed to be the night during which Muhammad received the first revelation of the Qu’ran. The Ramadan fast ends on the first day of the month of Shawwal with the festival of Eid-ul-Fitr.