Often, when we are posed with the question "what is the meaning of Ramadan?" we come across various personal accounts, experiences and insights into individual lifestyles and social life, which vary from "dieting" and "mood swings" to "spiritual enrichment" and "community engagement." No less important are the titles and themes we associate this blessed month with, such as, the month of mercy, forgiveness, charity, peace, love, community, reflection, worship, spirituality and of course fasting. That is the beauty of this blessed month; it encapsulates and embodies all of the above characteristics, and more, to everyone and anyone.
Across the Muslim world, iftars (fast-breaking meals) usually take place in mosques and public squares and spaces attracting hundreds, if not thousands, of people observing the fast from dawn to dusk. The daily routine of sahur (pre-dawn) and iftar meals, plus visiting the mosque – which is a regular feature of this blessed period – are social events involving family, friends, co-workers and acquaintances that turn iftar in particular, into a socializing event.In Islamic tradition, the holy month of Ramadan is primarily centered on family, fasting, charity and worship. Yet, all too often we are consumed by the demands and pressures of this worldly life that we fail to reflect and appreciate the most valuable gift in our lives: Family. However, not everyone has the luxury to spend time with their loved ones, especially if you are an international student, away from family, working in a new city or homeless with little food. Ramadan teaches us to open our doors, to invite our neighbors and to share our iftar with a fasting person. As Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: "Whoever gives iftar to one who is fasting will have a reward like his, without that detracting from the reward of the fasting person in the slightest."
Elsewhere, we come to learn that one of the best of righteous deeds to the companions of Muhammad was to provide food for others, as many used to share their meals with others, sitting and serving them with mercy, compassion and showing love for one another. It was also narrated that there was once a group where none of its members would break their fast on their own. Instead, they would eat together if they found someone to join them; otherwise they would take their food outside of the mosque and sit with people to share their meal. It is through such beautiful examples from the prophetic teachings, that acts of love and friendship surrounding the provision of food, companionship and brotherhood, are a means of attaining paradise, as Prophet Muhammad said: "You will not enter paradise until you truly believe, and you will not truly believe until you love one another."
Of course, Ramadan is not all about socializing; there is also much solitude and personal reflection with oneself, looking from the outset into the world. At the moment of breaking the fast, there is an energized ambience and electric atmosphere – a family and communal gathering inspired by the acts of togetherness, compassion and sharing with the other. During a day of solitude in prayer, reading the Quran, increasing your remembrance of God and abstaining from food and drink – while balancing your work commitments – that state of solitude is then transformed into socialization at the time of iftar, before re-entering a communal state of solitude during Tarawih prayers and the practice of
i'tikaf (retreat in the mosque). Ramadan is the constant shift between individual reflections and companionship. It is the month of both solitude and socialization. Furthermore, it's a time to remember those less fortunate than us, to invite the homeless and the poor and not turn them away; to say a good word, to smile, to safeguard our environment and above all else, to keep peace and good relations between people.
Ramadan should not be defined by way of a specific time or a month, but rather it is a state of mind. How we practice our faith and deal with others during Ramadan is an insight into our potential excellence in worship and relationship with God throughout our daily lives. There is no one or right answer to the question "what is the meaning of Ramadan?" rather, the answer lies in what you want the holy month Ramadan to mean to you.