Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting and prayer, begins Tuesday (in the United States) and goes through Aug. 8. It also is a time to abstain from indulgent activities. This week's clergy share some of the principles and benefits of Ramadan.
Imam Muhammad Jabbar, Masjid Darul Quran, Bay Shore:
Muslims are expected to be disciplined during this month. It is a time to revitalize physically through fasting, and mentally through prayer. And, it is a time of charity, especially for those who have less. The money saved by fasting should be used for those who go hungry, for those in poverty.
Ramadan also is a time of hospitality. After fasting from dawn to dusk, we break our fast with a meal. We invite others, Muslims and non-Muslims, to share this breaking the fast meal with us. We do this because it is the right thing to do and because we want to share this celebration with others. Also, perhaps there are those who do not have the finances for a feast. We invite them to come to the mosque and eat.
Ramadan is a time to examine one's behavior and make changes for the better. Ramadan is supposed to set the stage for the other 11 months of the year. We attempt to be a better person, a better Muslim. This is also a time to ask for forgiveness of family, friends, neighbors, whomever we have wronged or had difficulties with. The month of Ramadan can be a kick-start to being a better person.
The object of Ramadan is to be God-conscious and fulfill the commandments of God. We want to be closer to God, to understand the plight of those less fortunate. Through fasting, we also learn patience.
Seemi Ahmed, Muslim chaplain, Hofstra University, Hempstead:
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Muslim lunar calendar. We're required to fast from sunrise to sunset. It teaches discipline and to empathize with those who are less fortunate. It increases our God consciousness. You do this in obedience to the Creator.
We have special prayers that we say at this time in addition to the usual five prayers a day. We also ask for mercy, forgiveness and redemption from hellfire. The first 10 days, we ask for mercy, the next 10 for forgiveness and the last 10 for redemption from hellfire.
We pray each evening in the mosque. It is very powerful to know that all across the world, we are all saying the same prayer at the same time. It teaches us the importance of community. This communal prayer feels very different, more spiritual.
Fasting is also important because it is the one act that you do that is just between you and God. No one can see inside your stomach to see whether you are fasting. It is not something you can brag about. It is a very personal act. It is important to have this connection to God and this commandment that is so personal but still obeyed.
Finally, the 26th night of Ramadan is known as the night of power, and we stay up all night praying. It is said that if you pray all night, the Angel Gabriel will come down and bless you. This commitment to praying all night is another way to show our commitment to the principles of Ramadan.
Imam Ahmadullah Kamal, Long Island Muslim Society, East Meadow:
Ramadan is the Muslim month of fasting. It is an opportunity for Muslims to cleanse their sins. We fast from dawn to sunset, not eating or drinking. We also abstain from such bad behavior as backbiting, deceiving, lying, hatred . . . It is also a time of prayer.
The reason we fast is to remember those who have less. By fasting, we remember those who have little or nothing to eat or drink. We are to have both empathy and sympathy for the poor. All of us can learn to have sympathy and empathy for what others are going through. So often, we become caught up in our lives and forget to care for those around us.
The month of avoiding bad behavior reminds us that we can refrain from such behavior the other 11 months of the year. If you can do it for 30 days, you can do it for 12 months. It takes strength to do this, which is why we pray to God before the month of Ramadan for strength to complete the month of Ramadan. We are reminded that we should pray to God for guidance and strength at all times for whatever endeavors we have.
Ramadan also is a month to remember and be with family. We all can become so busy that we don't have or take the time to sit down and have a meal with our family. At the end of each day's fast, we offer prayers and then end our fast as a family. We sit together, pray together and eat together. We remember the importance of such seemingly small acts as sharing a meal with family, friends and the community.