Ramadan is a month-long Islamic religious observance commemorated by over one billion Muslims worldwide, marked with fasting, prayer and reflection. The term Ramadan was coined from the name of the ninth month -- which means "intense heat" or "scorched ground" -- in the Islamic calendar. In 2008 the observance of Ramadan begins on September 1 and ends around October 1 as soon as the new moon is sighted.
From the Qur'an
The observance of Ramadan is defined in the Qur'an as follows:
Practices during Ramadan
One of the notable observances during the season is fasting (Arabic: sawm), that is, abstinence from eating, drinking and sexual intercourse. Fasting is especially mentioned in the Islamic law (Five Pillars of Islam) and should be practiced during Ramadan from dusk till dawn. Any habit which gives pleasure to the body should be totally eliminated; this heightens one's self-control and devotion. Essentially this practice is a way to be closer to Allah and an act of piety as well. One is encouraged to do good and to avoid bad habits, evil thoughts and cursing.
Reading the Qur'an and Praying
Another important practice during Ramadan is the reading of the Qur'an. For Muslims it is an act of worship. Many spend their day listening to the recitation of the Qur'an in a mosque while others meet for Qur'anic studies. Muslims also devote their time in prayer during this month. A special prayer called Tarawi is recited in the mosques every night for the whole month.
Other religious and cultural practices enacted during Ramadan include the Zakaat, self reformation, spiritual cleansing and enlightenment, and the giving of alms to the poor and needy.
Night of Power
The last ten days of Ramadan are particularly significant, especially the Lailat ul-Qadr (in English the “Night of Power”) believed to be the night on the which the Qur'an was revealed to Muhammed. Generally, Lailat ul-Qadr falls every 27th night of the month. The Qur'an states that "this night is better than a thousand months," which is why the day is devoted entirely to prayer.
The end of Ramadan coincides with the Islamic festival of Eid ul-Fitr. An Arabic word which means “Festival of Breaking the Fast”, Eid ul-Fitr is characterized by food sharing and the giving of alms to the poor. Participants put on their best clothes. A communal prayer is held to start the celebration, followed by a large feast and the visiting of loved ones.
Muslims are encouraged to fast six days in Shawwal, which begins after the celebrations of Eid ul-Fitr. These six days of fasting during Shawwal, together with the Ramadan fasts, are equivalent to fasting "perpetually" according to Sahih Muslim. Usually, this is taken to mean the whole year. It is a common misconception that the six days of fasting must be undertaken on consecutive days.
Ramadan In The Philippines
While Muslim Filipinos celebrate Ramadan according to the Islamic calendar, the exact day when it actually commences varies from country to country, depending on lunar observations conducted by religious authorities the world over. In the Philippines the Office of Muslim Affairs supervises the celebration of Ramadan. Ramadan begins the day after the new moon is sighted.
Muslim Filipinos observe the fast or sawm strictly. Fasting starts at sunrise at around 4AM and ends right before 6PM. In predominantly Muslim countries, the celebration of Ramadan entails a re-arrangement of the way that an entire society lives and works and how business is conducted. In the Philippines, Muslim Filipinos -- especially those who live in urban Christian centers -- have to customize their observance of Ramadan on a smaller scale.
In lieu of huge food banquets in restaurants that are served as soon as the daily fast ends and which remain on sale until dawn -- a common practice in countries like Saudi Arabia -- Muslim Filipinos host communal feasts in their neighborhoods at sunset.
People are roused at dawn for suhur (the meal before the fast starts) by the banging of pots and pans or singing of religious songs. Again food is shared with the community. One may enter any household in the neighborhood and partake of the food served within.
Houses are also extensively cleaned during Ramadan. Incense is lit in the more traditional households. Family graves are visited and cleaned as well.
Nasser Sharief of The Manila Times reports that as late as the 1960's, "... Maranaos in Lanao burn candles by their balconies, singing hymns, especially in anticipation of Laylat el Qadir, the night when Archangel Gabriel and the angels descend down on earth."
Practices such as these have started to die out in recent years due to the twin trends of modernization and secularization. Islamic authorities focus less on preserving culturally specific practices and concentrate instead on disseminating information about Ramadan both to the general public and to the faithful in order to highlight its importance as a religious celebration. The ULAMA League of the Philippines sponsors lectures on Islam over the radio as well as Qur'an reading competitions involving different tribes and madrasah.
Ramadan has also been an occasion for intensified calls for spiritual regeneration with emphasis on preservation of the integrity of the Islamic community in the Philippines. This is in light of the continuing turbulence in Mindanao.
Ramadan ends approximately 30 days after it begins, once a new moon is sighted. The end of Ramadan also signals the celebration of Eid ul-Fitr which is considered an official non-working holiday in the Philippines.
The ceremony marking the Eid ul-Fitr starts at 7AM when Muslim families proceed to the mosque for prayers, which -- space allowing -- are traditionally enacted in the street or plaza outside the mosque in remembrance of the Prophet Muhammad's revelation in the desert. After prayers are over, a feast is held in a space set aside for the purpose. People bring food to share with the rest of the community.
- Majul, Cesar Adib. Muslims In The Philippines. 1973. Reprint, Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press, 1999.
- Banzon, Prix D. "Ramadan Starts This Month." Philippine Information Office, September 8, 2007. (Accessed on October 9, 2007).
- "Philippines Ramadan Peace Call." (Accessed on October 9, 2007).
- "Ramadan". Submission.org. (Accessed on October 8, 2007).
- Sharief, Nassier. "Ramadan In The Philippines: Taking Stock." The Manila Times, September 29, 2006. (Accessed on October 9, 2007).
- Sorza, Rexcel. "Filipino Muslims Celebrate Ramadan On Monday." Islam Online, October 27, 2003. (Accessed on October 9, 2007).