The month of July is special for Canadians. It's the month of Canada Day celebrations and festivities. For Canadian Muslims, however, July of this year means something more.
The month of Ramadan begins on July 8. Ramadan has a profound religious importance: It is the month of fasting -- one of the five main pillars of Islam. Fasting, simply stated, is an act of devotion, where Muslims abstain from food and drink from dawn to sunset. Fasting is only required of those who are physically fit. Exemptions are in place for those who can't fast, though they are required to compensate the fasting with charity. A person who can't fast permanently is required to instead feed a poor person for every day missed.
The significance of Ramadan is mostly spiritual, but its impact is felt across every aspect of the Muslim social life. Culturally speaking, Ramadan has its own colourful and intriguing features. Every Muslim culture across the globe has an established cultural norms uniquely associated with Ramadan. Included in this are special dishes, costumes, rhymes, traditions and rituals. Grocery stores pack their stores with food items uniquely demanded in Ramadan. A typical food item common across the globe during Ramadan is tamr dates. It was the tradition of Prophet Muhammad to break fasting with dates; Muslims have kept this tradition for generations. Another food item common in Ramadan is shurba, a homemade soup of a variety of ingredients and flavours.
The daily routine life of Muslims is altered in Ramadan. Eating hours change from noon lunch and evening supper, to a main meal after sunset and a light meal before dawn. The fast-breaking hour (around 9:30 p.m.) becomes the most precious hour, not just because it is a moment of quenching thirst and eating, but also because of its social significance. This is the hour where family members, friends, relatives and community members come together to share their meal and enjoy the company. One of the virtues recommended in the tradition of Prophet Muhammad is to share food with others who are fasting. Accordingly, invitations to community potluck gathering are in great abundance.
Ramadan brings the best in humanity; generosity peaks during this time. The largest collection of funds for charity and relief work takes place in Ramadan. People reach out to others, mend broken relationships and establish more positive relationships. Mosque attendance increases in Ramadan and peaks in the last 10 days. Following the breaking of fasting, Muslims gather every night in the mosque for a nightly prayer known as Taraweeh.
In a saying of Prophet Muhammad, the first 10 days of Ramadan are described as days of mercy, the second 10 days as days of forgiveness and the last 10 days as days of emancipation. Many Muslims take advantage of Ramadan to reconnect with their inner self through meditation, introspection and pondering. Ramadan for many is an opportunity to break bad habits, strengthen family bonds and begin a new more positive chapter in life.
Ismael Mukhtar is the president of the Manitoba Islamic Association.