For a period of 29 or 30 days beginning in August, Muslims across the globe will begin to observe Ramadan, the holy month of fasting. During the month, Muslims will refrain from food, drink and sex during daylight hours, in addition to being mindful of not cursing and keeping one’s anger in check.
Those are just some of the physical aspects of Ramadan, but Taneem Aziz, president of the Muslim Community of Northeast Tennessee, said the spiritual aspect of the month is one of discipline, reflection and ultimately designed to bring a person closer to God.
Aziz said both the spiritual and physical aspects of Islam are connected and Ramadan is a way for Muslims to feed both aspects of the faith, which is something one needs in a fast-paced society.
“Typically, when you get so busy, especially in these days, you’re working and you’re with family and this and that, you keep going and then all of the sudden you realize that you’re missing out,” Aziz said. “That’s why Muslims just love Ramadan, because it’s a time to take a deep breath and change course for the better.”
In Islamic tradition, Ramadan — the ninth month of the Islamic calendar — signifies when the angel Gabriel began delivering the Koran to the Prophet Mohammed. Ramadan begins with the sighting of the crescent moon and lasts about a month — a time which Aziz said Muslims believe blessings are multiplied. During Ramadan, practicing Muslims will often read the Koran in its entirety over the course of evening prayer time.
After sunset, the fast is traditionally broken by eating dates and drinking milk, followed by prayer. Aziz said an evening meal is often eaten after prayer.
Ramadan also is a time in which Muslims will make resolutions about how to become a better person spiritually.
“Ramadan then becomes a training ground for Muslims to become better people,” Aziz said.
While the discipline that comes with observing Ramadan might look daunting to some, Aziz said he believes it’s a time that every Muslim looks forward to, as it is really a “yearly rejuvenation” for the body and spirit.
“I could go through the month of Ramadan and not make a change in my life, but God has given us the chance to put that break in our lives to make ourselves better,” he said.
The observance of Ramadan also varies depending on which part of the world it is being observed. Aziz, who has been in the United States since he was 16, was born in Bangladesh, where he said the whole environment was more or less geared toward the holy month. With mosques everywhere and the ability to hear the call to prayer multiple times a day, Aziz said observing Ramadan in Bangladesh was very different from observing it in East Tennessee.
But celebrating Ramadan in a community that houses Muslims from Arab nations, Africa, India and America is part of the beauty of observing the month locally, Aziz said.
“God says in the Koran that ‘I created you many nations and tribes that you may know one another,’ and I really truly believe this happens in this house here,” he said.
Aziz said the last 10 days of Ramadan are especially holy, and it’s not uncommon for Muslims to spend those days and nights in the masjid — the place of prostration — praying and reading the Koran and other religious books.
The holiday of Eid ul-Fitr marks the end Ramadan and signals the beginning of Shawwal. Festivals are typically held in celebration following the final day of fasting, a time which Aziz said is somewhat bittersweet.
“A lot of people are sad about the end of Ramadan, because it really is a special time for us to be close to God and when we know that we are out of that month of Ramadan, but also to know that we have spiritually improved ourselves makes us happy,” he said. “There’s a sadness in leaving it, but there’s happiness in what’s been done to ourselves spiritually.”