In less than two weeks, the blessed and holy month of Ramadhan will be with us, in sha Allah. Below are excerpts from a special sermon, on the coming of this auspicious event, as delivered by our esteemed brother, Imam Muhammad Murtadha Gusau, in Okene yesterday. Enjoy.
“Dear Servants of Allah! Know that, FASTING is not unique to the Muslims. It has been practiced for centuries in connection with religious ceremonies by Christians, Jews, Confucianists, Hindus, Taoists, and Jains. Allah the Almighty mentions this fact in the Holy Qur’an:
“O you who believe, fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may develop Allah-consciousness.” [Qur’an, 2:183]
I also learn that some Native American societies observe the fast to avert catastrophe or to serve as penance for sin. The Native Americans of Mexico and the Incas of Peru observed penitential fasts to appease their deities. Past nations of the Old World, such as the Assyrians and the Babylonians, observed fasting as a form of penance. Jews observe fast as a form of penitence and purification annually on the Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur. On this day neither food nor drink is permitted.
Early Christians associated fasting with penitence and purification. During the first two centuries of its existence, the Christian church established fasting as a voluntary preparation for receiving the sacraments of Holy Communion and baptism and for the ordination of priests. Later, these fasts were made obligatory, as other days were subsequently added. In the 6th century, the Lenten fast was expanded to 40 days, on each of which only one meal was permitted. After the Reformation, fasting was retained by most Protestant churches and was made optional in some cases. Stricter Protestants, however, condemned not only the festivals of the church, but its traditional fasts as well.
In the Roman Catholic Church, fasting may involve partial abstinence from food and drink or total abstinence. The Roman Catholic days of fasting are Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. In the United States, fasting is observed mostly by Episcopalians and Lutherans among Protestants, by Orthodox and Conservative Jews, and by Roman Catholics.
With all what I have mentioned above, Islam is the only religion that has retained the outward and spiritual dimensions of fasting throughout centuries. Selfish motives and desires of the base self alienate a man from his Creator. The most unruly human emotions are pride, avarice, gluttony, lust, envy, stinginess, and anger. These emotions by their nature are not easy to control, thus a person must strive hard to discipline them. Muslims fast to purify their soul, it puts a bridle on the most uncontrolled, savage human emotions. People have gone to two extremes with regard to them. Some let these emotions steer their life which lead to barbarism among the ancients, and crass materialism of consumer cultures in modern times. Others tried to deprive themselves completely of these human traits, which in turn led to monasticism.
The fourth Pillar of Islam, the Fast of Ramadan, occurs once each year during the 9th lunar month, the month of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar in which:
“…the Qur’an was sent down as a guidance for the people.” [Qur’an, 2:185]
Allah in His infinite mercy has exempt the ill, travelers, and others who are unable from fasting during Ramadan.
Fasting helps Muslims develop self-control, gain a better understanding of Allah’s gifts and greater compassion toward the deprived. Fasting in Islam involves abstaining from all bodily pleasures between dawn and sunset. Not only is food forbidden, but also any sexual activity. All things which are regarded as prohibited is even more so in this month, due to its sacredness. Each and every moment during the fast, a person suppresses their passions and desires in loving obedience to Allah. This consciousness of duty and the spirit of patience helps in strengthening our faith. Fasting helps a person gain self-control. A person who abstains from permissible things like food and drink is likely to feel conscious of his sins. A heightened sense of spirituality helps break the habits of lying, staring with lust at the opposite sex, gossiping, backbiting and wasting time. Staying hungry and thirsty for just a day’s portion makes one feel the misery of the millions who go hungry or those who are living with hunger or are at risk of hunger. After all, why would anyone care about starvation if one has never felt its pangs oneself? One can see why Ramadan is also a month of charity and giving not a month of stinginess and miserliness.
At dusk, the fast is broken with a light meal popularly referred to as IFTAR. Families and friends share a special late evening meal together, often including special foods and sweets served only at this time of the year. Many go to the Mosque for the evening prayer, followed by special prayers recited only during Ramadan. Some will recite the entire Qur’an as a special act of piety, and public recitations of the Qur’an can be heard throughout the evening. Families rise before dawn to take their first meal of the day, which sustains them until sunset. Near the end of Ramadan Muslims commemorate the “Night of Power” when the Qur’an was revealed. The month of Ramadan ends with one of the two major Islamic celebrations, the Feast of the Breaking of the Fast, called Eid-ul-Fitr. On this day, Muslims joyfully celebrate the completion of Ramadan and customarily distribute gifts to children. Muslims are also obliged to help the poor join in the spirit of relaxation and enjoyment by distributing Zakatul-fitr, a special and obligatory act of charity in the form of staple foodstuff, in order that all may enjoy the general euphoria of the day.
* How To Determine The Beginning And End Of Ramadan
Beloved Servants of Allah! Precisely determining the beginning and end of Ramadan is very important because it indicates when to start and stop fasting. Therefore, it is an obligation on the Muslim community to ensure that this is determined accurately and publicized sufficiently.
* How The Islamic Lunar Calendar Works
The Islamic lunar calendar consists of twelve months, with Ramadan being the ninth month. Each month lasts twenty-nine or thirty days. Six months will be twenty-nine days and another six will be thirty days, thus making 354 days per lunar year. Technically, the lunar year consists of 354.37 days while the mean time between new moons is 29.53 days.
The way this was calculated during the time of the beloved Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) was that people would look at the sky at the beginning of every lunar month. If the new crescent was sighted, it would mean the next month has begun and the previous one has ended. The crescent is the sunlit portion of the moon as seen from Earth and varies according to the changing positions of the Sun, Moon, and Earth.
* How Ramadan Was Determined In The Prophet’s Lifetime
Dear Brothers and Sisters! Since each month could only consist of twenty-nine or thirty days, Muslims would go outside on the twenty-ninth day of Sha’aban (which is the 8 month in the Islamic calendar) after sunset to look for the new crescent in the sky. If the new moon crescent was seen by people sometime during the night, it would mean that the month of Sha’aban was twenty-nine days and now the month of Ramadan has entered. However, if it is not visible it means that the month of Sha’aban consists of thirty days and Ramadan will begin the following day.
The end of the month is determined in the same way by establishing that the new moon crescent is visible on the twenty-ninth of Ramadan after sunset. If it is then Ramadan will consist of only twenty-nine days and the following day is the month of Shawwal, which is Eid. However, if it is not visible it means that the month of Ramadan consists of thirty days and the month of Shawwal will begin the following day.
The Prophet (Peace be upon him) instructed his Companions to follow this method when he said:
“Start fasting when you see it (i.e. the crescent) and stop fasting (i.e. Ramadan is over) when you see it. If the sky is cloudy (and you can’t see the crescent on the 29) then consider Sha’aban as thirty days.” [Al-Bukhari]
It should be clear from this that months in the Islamic calendar were not known in advance whether they would consist of twenty-nine or thirty days.
* The Desire For Predetermined Months
As communications in the Muslim community became more complex, there was a need to have predetermined months for scheduling purposes. It would be very inconvenient for people in the same region to be using different calendars. Since the visibility of the crescent was not predictable in advance, another method would have to be used.
One such method was the new moon conjunction, which, in astronomical terms, is when the moon is precisely between the Earth and Sun. During conjunction (which is also known as moon-birth) the moon is not visible from Earth because the sunlit portion of the moon is facing away from the Earth.
New moon conjunction is precisely predictable and can be calculated exactly. The crescent moon only becomes visible from Earth about a day or two after the new moon conjunction because even when the three celestial bodies are not in a straight line, the moon is still too close to the sun’s glare to be seen with the naked eye from Earth. It is important to understand that the moon is ‘born’ about one or two days before it is actually visible, so moon-birth and
moon-visibility are two entirely different things.
* Which Calendar Should Determine Ramadan
As can be seen, even predetermined calendars which are calculated according to precise measurements require some specific methodology, such as conjunction, moonset-after-sunset, or some other precise measurements. The differing methodologies will result in different calculated calendars.
The question arose among some Muslim scholars: should Ramadan, and other religious days of fasting/celebration such as the 10 of Muharram (Ashura) and the 10 of Dhul Hijjah (Eid-Al-Adha), be determined through actual crescent sightings or a predetermined calendar?
Several Islamic scholars argued that dates which have a religious significance should be determined through actual crescent sightings, the way the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) did, and the calculated calendar can be used for civil purposes. Other scholars posited that a calculated calendar should be used for both civil and religious dates, the same way that it is used by most urban Muslims throughout the world for their prayer times, without having to actually check the light in the horizon for Fajr or the shadow-length.
* How To Achieve Unity In Ramadan
It may sound ideal to try to unite the entire world upon one date, but given the host of variables involved in the process, it is unlikely to happen anytime soon. Since some aspects of determining the new month were left vague by the Prophet (Peace be upon him), people will naturally differ in trying to interpret what Allah and His Messenger really intended.
Therefore, I believe that trying to achieve local unity is more important, and should be the priority of our efforts. If two neighbouring countries were to observe Ramadan on different days, it would be less impactful than two neighbouring cities determining the month differently. Likewise, two neighbouring cities disagreeing would have less consequences than people in the same city, or the same Mosque, or even in the same household beginning and ending Ramadan on different days.
Respected Servants of Allah! The issue boils down to respect for authority. Muslims must obey and respect their leaders on this issue. In the absence of any central authority within a locality, whether it be a city, state, or country, any Muslim is free to adopt whatever criteria they want. Muslims, in any locality, must have leaders who are willing to come together and agree on one criteria to adopt, even if they do not agree it is the ideal or most correct method. This is the first step. The next step would be to ensure that the Muslims respect the decision of those leaders and agree to follow it, even if they are not convinced it is the most accurate method.
Until this occurs, Muslims may find peace in knowing that no calendar in the world is absolute, that the Prophet took into consideration foggy evenings when the crescent is not visible, and that Allah will judge us according to our intentions and efforts.
Jumu’ah Khutbah by Imam Murtadha Muhammad Gusau, the Chief Imam of Nagazi-Uvete Jumu’ah and late Alhaji Abdurrahman Okene’s Mosques, Okene Kogi State. firstname.lastname@example.org