This year, the beginning of Ramadan falls on the first day of September. Ramadan is the month when Muslims, whose health permits, are ordered to fast from dawn to dusk — abstaining from food, drink and sexual activities.

The obligation to fast occurs once in a year, but it does not come exactly at the same time each year.

This is simply because the Islamic calendar is based on the lunar rather than the solar system. Ramadan constitutes one of the five pillars of Islam. Being so, it stands on a par with the other four pillars — testifying there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is His messenger, performing five daily prayers, giving alms and making the pilgrimage to Mecca.

Other than the above-mentioned physical traits of fasting, Muslims also believe that Ramadan is the month to enhance both the quantity and the quality of religious worship and services.

This is the reason why during the month of Ramadan many Muslims spend more time reading the Holy Koran, trying to finish all the 114 chapters, 30 sections and more than 6,000 verses.

In fact, some are able to read them all not only once, but twice or even three times. Following the compulsory Isha’ prayer, many Muslims perform the not obligatory but highly encouraged Tarawih prayer. Coupled with the guidance to exercise patience and restrain anger (something which could mar and invalidate fasting), Ramadan becomes a constant and regular reminder for Muslims to strengthen the internal dimension of their religiosity.

The abstinence from food and drink itself is essentially a form of spiritual enrichment whereby Muslims share the hardship of the less fortunate. It is in this spirit that personal alms (zakah al-fitrah) and donations are given at the end of the fasting month.

This, however, does not prevent Muslims from doing their other regular activities. Slightly modified, Muslim teachers remain active in their profession. Similarly, Muslim businesspeople are constantly engaged in their commercial activities.

Indeed, during the month of Ramadan, commercial activities, especially those related to garments, food and even automotive industries, are on the rise. A proper explanation for this has yet to be made, but such commercial activities are actually motivated by the fact that the religious festival (Idul Fitri) that comes at the end of the fasting month of Ramadan is something many Muslims look forward to. And new clothes and good food have become an integral part of the celebration.

Muslim artists and musicians too continue their regular work. Given the nature of Ramadan, perhaps they are compelled to emphasize more the so-called religious arts and music. The best evidence can be found in the mushrooming of TV’s “Islamic” soap operas whenever the month of fasting comes around. The politicians do likewise.

Ramadan does not prevent Muslim political activists and practitioners from making deals and maneuverings.

Let us not forget that even the independence of the Republic of Indonesia was declared in the month of Ramadan, which coincided with Aug. 17, 1945.

If Ramadan is nevertheless characterized by the regular socioeconomic and political activities of the adherents of Islam, where does the special position of the month of fasting lie? What is its defining factor vis-a-vis other months? Does Ramadan simply mean that Muslims are obliged not to eat and drink, not to be angry and to exercise patience, as well as to refrain from any sexual activities?

Legally, the answer is yes. Spiritually, however, the answer is no. In other words, it is true the fasting of Ramadan is about abstaining from food, drink and sexual activities. But it is not confined to those matters.

In this case, it is important to note that more than 1,400 years ago, the Prophet Muhammad had already warned Muslims that abstinence from food, drink and sexual activities will only discharge them from their obligation to fast. Under such circumstances, they will be rewarded with nothing but thirst and hunger.

Muslim preachers frequently make suggestions regarding the special position of Ramadan. In general, they believe that Ramadan is the month when Allah opens His arms of forgiveness. Perhaps it is the only month where the devils are shackled and confined so they cannot tempt and disturb Muslims from worshiping Allah and doing good deeds. But more importantly, it was the month when the Prophet Muhammad received the Divine Revelation from Allah, the primary source of guidance for Muslims to follow.

Given the regularity of Muslims’ public and private activities on the one hand, and in order not to spoil the high standings of the month of Ramadan on the other, it is only natural that Muslims treat Ramadan as a training ground to create a more balanced life. While continuing to carry out their daily activities, they should learn to conduct those activities with spirituality. The month of Ramadan is only a milestone; the actual journey must be traveled every month.

Source: Jakarta Post (Indonesia)