(photo credit: Reuters)
Hundreds of millions of Muslims around the world will begin the annual spiritual ascent of the Ramadan month on Monday, marked with fasting, prayers, charity and the receiving of the Koran.
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“We believe the fasting is not only for us, but also for those who were before us, for the Jews, Christians, and any believer,” Acre Imam Sheikh Samir Assi said on Sunday. “It was in this month that God gave us the Koran, and we thank him for it and fast.”
The monthly daily fasting, beginning in Israel around 4:20 a.m. and ending at 7:45 p.m., will end with the three-day Id el-Fitr celebration. Prior to that, on the 27th day of the fast, will be Laylat El Kadr, the exact night in which the Koran was handed down, when prayers in mosques are held the entire night.
“It’s not just hard, it’s very very hard,” said Assi with a smile when asked about the difficulty of such an extended fast in the oppressive summer heat. “But we have no choice.”
Besides eating and drinking, smoking is also prohibited during Ramadan. Boys over 13 years and girls over 12 are expected to fast.
Faddi, who works at a vegetable stand in the Iraqi section of Jerusalem’s Machaneh Yehuda market, will not be cutting himself any slack on one of the most important commandments in the Muslim tradition.
“Of course I’ll fast, what a question,” he said while cutting a piece of pumpkin in two. Asked how he’ll be able to endure the heat with his physical labor, Faddi beckoned with his head to the religious Jew at the other side of the stand, near the red peppers. “My boss will cover for a few hours in the afternoon when I’ll be going to rest,” he said.
The rationale behind not eating during the Ramadan is not different than the reason behind fasts in other religions.
“We are undertaking a spiritual journey, and seek to be holy like angels, who don’t need food,” said Assi. “The fast uplifts you from the ground to heaven, and also makes you more sensitive to others, such as those who don’t have food any time in the year.”
One of the commandments observed more closely during the month is giving charity, called the Zakaat al-Fitr. “Everyone must give it, even those who haven’t fasted,” said the sheikh.
Since the Ramadan is the month of the Koran, special emphasis is given
to reading it in this time. There is also the Tarawih prayer recited in
the mosques after the evening prayer during the days of the fast.
What makes this month special, said Assi, “is the fact that the mosques
are full of people praying. Even Muslims who normally do not attend
prayers will show up, become penitent, and pray. If you enter a mosque
at night during this month, you will see it’s full.”
A day before the beginning of the month of Ramadan, “I wish all Muslims
an easy fast, that the situation in the Muslim world, Arab world and
world will become stable, and that we can all live together in peace and
fraternity,” said Assi.