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The Holy Month of Mercy and Forgiveness

Muslims praying at the Dome of the Rock

During the month of Ramadan Muslims are commanded to fast, meaning abstain from food, drink and other sensual pleasures.  Fasting during Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam:

The Dome of the Rock as seen by David Roberts

1. Shahada ( affirmation of faith);  2. Salat (prayers); 3. Zakat (almsgiving);  4.Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca); and,  5. Siyam (fasting).

The Arabic word ramadan is derived from an Arabic root ramida, meaning intensive scorching heat and dryness.

Fasting means not only abstaining from food, drink and sexual intercourse during the day but also restraining the tongue, the eye, the ear, the heart and mind from indulging in unlawful acts that render the fast worthless. The prophet Muhammad said: ”Whoever observes fast during the month of Ramadan out of sincere faith, and hoping to attain Allah’s rewards, all his past sins will be forgiven”. (Sahih Al-Bukhari, Book of Fasting).

During the month of Ramadan, paradise’s doors are opened, hell’s doors are closed and satans are chained. So, by observing fasting, a devout Muslim is offered a golden opportunity to reap worldly and divine rewards through self-control, devotion to Allah and spiritual self-reflection.

A Muslim can practice self-control over the body and its desires through communal praying, doing good deeds, reading the Qur’an, exercising patience and moderation, sympathizing with the less fortunate, strengthening family ties and supplication to Allah. Although these practices should not be exclusively limited to the month of Ramadan, the rewards are doubled.  They are religious and spiritual values that should be an integral part of one’s life.

Among the landmarks of Ramadan are the revelation of the Qur’an, lailatu l-qadr (night of destiny/power) and eid el-fitr (feast of fast-breaking).  It is believed that the first verses of the Qur’an were revealed to the prophet Mohammad through the archangel  Gabriel on one particular night during Ramadan, which is considered in the Qur’an better than a thousand months.  During this month, angels descend to witness how people worship and obey Allah, to show their deep love for the believers and to increase their rewards. Muslims gather in mosques to observe or seek this blessed night in devotion, recitation of the Qur’an and supplications.  The end of Ramadan is marked by eid el-fitr, which extends for three days, during which people wear holiday apparel, especially kids, attend a communal sunrise prayer, congratulate each other, visit cemeteries and offer gifts or money to children.

Ramadan has plenty of medical, social and psychological benefits. First, it is believed that fasting helps lower blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar. Second, family and community bonds are generally strengthened during Ramadan.  Families and friends exchange invitations to Iftar, parties, prepare collective Itfar, make home visits and socialize.

A street vendor selling carob
The fruit of a  date palm

How does a Muslim spend a typical Ramadan day?  Fasting is broken just after sunset. It coincides with the evening prayer. In the past , a cannon was fired to announce the end of the fast. Nowadays this announcement is made on radio and TV. With the Iftar meal people eat dates and drink liquorice, carob or kamar ed-din (apricot) juice. After the meal people usually go to the mosque to perform the congregational Isha' (night) and taraweeh (non-mandatory) prayers. They return home and have the typical Ramadan dessert, katayef (a pancake stuffed with walnuts or white cheese, folded and dipped in syrup). Some visit relatives and friends to socialize.

Preparing the duff of Qatayef
Stuffed Qatayef with nuts and white cheese

Eid Mubarak



- This week in Palestine Issue No. 90, October 2005: "Ramadan: The Holy   Month of Mercy and Forgiveness", by Dr. Aziz Khalil


- Art and History of Jerusalem, by Bonechi and Steimatzky, 1996


- Jerusalem of the Heavens, by Milner Moshe, Meiri Press, 1993


- Jerusalem Man and Stone, Modan Publishing House, 1990



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