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Preparing for Ramadan

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The holy month of Islam, Ramadan, is approaching fast. It is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar when Muslims all over the world fast from daybreak to sundown. In this light, it is time to start preparing for Ramadan, both mentally and physically.

Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam which are: believing in the one and only God; praying five times a day; fasting during the month of Ramadan; giving alimony to those in need; and visiting the holy city of Mecca once in a lifetime for the hajj.

In the West, we experience that Ramadan is a mobile month, but this impression is only because Islamic months are calculated according to the lunar calendar and not the solar one. This gives a difference of about 15 days a year, which means that for non-Muslims, Ramadan is perceived to come 15 days earlier each year. However, according to the lunar calendar, the month is fixed.

The month of Ramadan is mostly associated with strict fasting and imagined huge feasts after sundown and most people do not understand the underlying ideas behind this obligation. Yet there is more to Ramadan than the restrictions during the day, and more than the delicious diners after the sunset.

During the month of Ramadan, adult Muslims are required to fast from daybreak to sunset. This obligation does not apply for pregnant women and women breastfeeding their child, and those whose health condition does not allow for a day-long fast, such as diabetics or those suffering from other internal diseases. Children are not required to fast, yet their initiation to fasting starts usually at a young age, starting with only a few days at a time. These exceptions show how flexible Ramadan actually is.

The restrictions during this time include not eating, not drinking, refraining from bad deeds and bad thoughts, and not having sexual intercourse. This obviously does not apply for the time when the fast is broken, that is, during the night. This means that these things are not forbidden for a whole month, but restricted for a specified time period during the day. Muslims have their breakfast before the first prayer and break the fast before the last one, which will be followed by a bigger dinner.

But Ramadan is not only about physical restrictions, but also about mental rebirth and religious refilling of ourselves. While Muslims avoid doing the above mentioned things, they read and recite the Quran regularly and attend congregational prayers, called tarawih, during the night. This prayer is however not obligatory, yet many chose to attend. Most Muslims also strive to finish the Quran during this month, reading one part of it per day. Each part is about 30 pages, thus easy to read during the day.

Briefly, Ramadan is about cleaning our body from the worldly pleasures for a while by fasting, and cleaning our soul for whatever dirt there may be inside. It is about cleaning our body from all of the effects of our bad habits and teaching our body how to endure difficulties and support hunger or thirst, as well as to control our instincts and needs. And it is about cleaning our minds and hearts from stress, anger, hatred or impatience, and teaching ourselves the values that are barely respected in our everyday lives, such as understanding, patience, and compassion toward the needy and the ill.

The month of Ramadan is closed by the Eid ul-Fitr, the festivity of breaking the fast, which also marks the beginning of the next month.

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