“You are commanded to fast”

Muslims celebrate Ramadan © Mohammed Saber

Ramadan begins again on Wednesday: For the nearly five million Muslims in Germany, this marks the start of an almost four-week fasting period. What exactly does Ramadan mean?

Ramadan – what does it mean?

Ramadan is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar. Its name comes from the Arabic. It is derived from the root "ramida" and stands for "burning heat and dryness". According to Islamic belief, the Koran was revealed to the Prophet Mohammed in this month. In Ramadan, devout Muslims fast. The "burning heat" is not meant to refer to the season, but to the feeling in the stomach of the fasting person. Fasting ("Saum") is one of the five so-called pillars of Islam, along with the profession of faith ("Shahada"), daily prayer five times a day ("Salat"), the alms tax ("Zakat") and the pilgrimage to Mecca ("Hajj").

To whom does the fasting commandment apply, and what does a devout Muslim have to keep in mind??

The fasting commandment applies to all Muslims from the age of religious maturity, which corresponds to the age of about 14 years. Decisive are the verses 183 to 185 of Sura 2. This Quranic passage begins with the words, "Ye believers! You are commanded to fast, just as those who lived before you were commanded to fast."Between the start of dawn and sunset, Muslims are forbidden to eat, drink, smoke and have sexual intercourse. With the "Iftar", the common dinner, the chamfering is terminated daily.

If necessary, special prayers follow ("Tarawih"). Ramadan is followed by the three-day festival of breaking the fast, "Id al Fitr" in Arabic. In Turkish, the festival is called "ramazan bayram" ("Ramadan festival"). Children, the elderly, the sick, pregnant women and travelers are exempt from the fasting requirement.

Why does Ramadan shift from year to year??

The Islamic calendar calculation is based on the moon and not the sun, unlike the Gregorian calendar used in the West. According to this, the year has only about 354 and not 364 days. It so happens that although Ramadan always lasts about 30 days, it moves forward by about 11 days each year.

How Muslims look at Ramadan today?

Although the month of fasting is very important in the Islamic faith, it is also a source of controversy – even within the Muslim community. This starts with its timing, which is not uniform due to different calculation bases. In Germany, the major Islamic associations have been following the guidelines of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) since 2008. Muslims living in Scandinavia in the Arctic Circle usually orient themselves to the times in Saudi Arabian Mecca or Turkey during the summer, when the sun practically never sets.

Many Muslims perceive the fasting period as a time of purification. But abstaining from water and food during the day doesn't seem to agree with everyone. For example, according to media reports, domestic and road accidents are increasing in Saudi Arabia at this time because people are tired and overstimulated.

The historian and consumer researcher Frank Trentmann has observed a commercialization of the evening breaking of the fast in recent years. After sunset in Ramadan, the shopping malls in Islamic countries are particularly well frequented.

Fasting – does it also exist in other religions??

Fasting is not a unique feature of Islam. In Christianity, the fasting period lasts from Ash Wednesday to Easter. The remembrance of the death and resurrection of Jesus is to be preceded by 40 days of penance and purification. In the past, fasting was also practiced in the weeks before Christmas, during Advent, in preparation for the feast of the birth of Jesus. It is still widespread in the Orthodox churches today.

The Jews know several days of fasting, the most important is Yom Kippur in September or October. The tradition probably goes back to the time of the Jewish people in the Babylonian exile in the 6th century. Going back to the sixteenth century B.C. Buddhists also know several days of fasting, including the Vesakh festival on the first full moon day in May or June. Then the birth, death and enlightenment of Buddha is commemorated.

An extreme form of fasting is the so-called Prayopavesa in Hinduism. In this ritual, death is accepted by the complete renunciation of food. Prayopavesa, according to Hindu teachings, is reserved only for people who no longer have any obligations or desires for life. Experts compare this practice with the death fasting of the seriously ill.

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