Ramadan, Beyond the Fast

Sultan Ahmed (the Blue Mosque), Istanbul. Photo: Colin Christopher

In a few months, Eid al-Fitr will mark the end of the holy month of Ramadan. The most significant Islamic religious observance of the year, Ramadan is primarily known for its requirement that practicing Muslims in good health and of appropriate age abstain from food, drink, and sexual activity from dawn til sunset. Those that are able and interested recite Qur’anic verses during the evening hours, as it is recommended for Muslims to read all 114 verses, or suras, over the duration of the lunar month. But there’s much more to Ramadan than this.

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Pillars of Islam: Hajj

The Kaba during Hajj

In previous posts, I wrote about the first four pillars of Islam: shahadah (the proclamation of faith), salah (prayer), saum Ramadan (fasting during the month of Ramadan), and zakat (almsgiving). Hajj, the fifth and final pillar of Islam, is the pilgrimage to Mecca. Every able-bodied Muslim who is financially ready is required to perform the pilgrimage.

The pilgrimage to Mecca predates Islam. Mecca was on a major trade route and also home to Kaba, the holy sanctuary in the middle of the city that many people would visit for pilgrimage. For Muslims, the Kaba is the center of the Islamic worldview. During prayer, Muslims face the Kaba. Muslims also believe that Abraham and his son Ishmael built the Kaba for the worship of one God and by the time of the Prophet Muhammad it had been filled with idols. Many of the rituals of the hajj stem from the Abrahamic story. Continue reading

Pillars of Islam: Giving Zakat

I have written in previous posts about the first three pillars of Islam: shahadah (the proclamation of faith), salah (prayer), and saum Ramadan (fasting the month of Ramadan). In this post, I will focus on giving zakat, or almsgiving. The word zakat comes from the Arabic root “to purify.” Muslims purify their wealth by giving around 2.5% of standing wealth, wealth that they have not needed to use during the year, to those in need. Zakat is different from voluntary charity called sadaqah because it is required of all able Muslims. Continue reading

A Night of Ramadan in Old Delhi

Jama Masjid, Delhi, India Photo: Reuters/Adnan Abidi

Many Americans will be feasting with family and friends to celebrate Thanksgiving this week, and the holiday’s emphasis on food reminded me of my recent experiences in Delhi.

The end of my summer internship this past August brought me to the Puraani Shehar (in the Urdu language), or the Old City section of India’s capital, on the first night of the 9th month in the Muslim lunar calendar, Ramadan. Throughout the holy month, Muslims abstain from eating, drinking, and sexual relations from sunrise until sunset. The fast is traditionally ended by eating dates and followed by a congregational prayer in a mosque or the home of a local Muslim who is holding an iftar—the evening meal marking the end of the day’s fast.

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Charitable Pakistan

A food distribution shop in Lahore, Pakistan. Shops like these are common near Sufi shrines where impoverished citizens receive free meals through the donations of individuals. Photo: Colin Christopher

Mainstream media in the U.S. often focuses on stories of breakdown rather than success, especially when dealing with the world outside our borders. Nowhere is this more apparent than in media treatment of Pakistan, which may have one of the most lopsided ratios of negative to positive news stories of any country in the world. No one can deny the great challenges it faces, but what mainstream media stories about suicide bombings and natural disasters fail to capture is the strong charitable and philanthropic tradition of Pakistani society.

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