In this first edition of a three-part series on the Holy Month of Ramadan and Muslim Beliefs, we look at fasting, which is one of the five pillars of Islam.
Millions of Muslims worldwide, including some in Zimbabwe, are currently observing the Holy Month of Ramadan through prayers and various activities.
In a nation like Zimbabwe where the majority of people either follow the Christian religion or traditional beliefs, not much is known about Ramadan and Muslim culture.
The Holy Month of Ramadan this year started on June 28th and is expected to end July 28th in most parts of the world.
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Muslim calendar year, during which strict fasting is observed from sunrise to sunset, until the month ends with a feast called Eid-al-fitr. This is a day of joy, bonding, helping one another and spreading happiness.
Ramadan began as a Holy Month when the first Qur’an was revealed to Prophet Muhammad on what is known as Laylat al-Qadr or the Night of Power.
FOOD, DRINK AND SMOKING
According to the Islamic Society of Rutgers University, fasting in the Holy Month involves abstaining from food, drink and smoking. It is also about self-restraint and bringing followers closer to Allah. Muslims also mark Ramadan by raising money for the under privileged.
A typical day of fasting begins with an early morning meal before dawn known as suhoor. It ends with a sunset prayer, dinner and gathering at a mosque, where the Qur'an is recited.
The last day is marked by morning prayers followed by feasting and celebrating among family and friends.
The call-to-prayer each morning, which is performed to mark the start of five prayer sessions undertaken by Muslims a day, becomes more significant during the Holy Month of Ramadan.
Ali Mack, an Imam or preacher at the Mosque of Light in Kwekwe, who became an Imam after completing a five-year course at the Islamic College in Harare, says Ramadan is one of the five pillars of the religion.
PILLARS OF ISLAM
The other pillars of Islam are prayer, faith, pilgrimage and zakat, which means everything belongs to God and wealth is held by human beings in trust.
In most cases, Muslims hold their prayers in mosques and this includes the Holy Month of Ramadan.
In Harare, they gather at the Islamic Centre in Waterfalls and in Belvedere while in the Midlands capital, Gweru, they congregate at the Gweru Islamic Centre. In Kwekwe, they assemble at the Mosque of Light, which is situated in the city's central business district.
Zimbabwe’s second largest city, Bulawayo, is also home to hundreds of Muslims, mostly drawn from Malawian immigrants.
Gweru resident, Mrs. Yasmin Milanzi, grew up in a Christian family but later converted to Islam. She says many people have a lot of misconceptions about Islam and strongly believes that these can be dispelled if they take some time to know more about the religion.
Like her colleagues, she is currently observing Ramadan.
Mrs. Milanzi says the end of Ramadan is marked by alms-giving and some festivities, which are almost similar to Christmas.
Nineteen year-old Aseem Milanzi is a young Muslim. She says contrary to some beliefs, Islam is not a religion with strict rules.
She says the religion fosters moral uprightness, especially among young people.
“Islam is not a strict religion. When they think about the religion, most people focus on the way female Muslims dress and they criticize this. But as a young Muslim, I feel that the dressing is cool because it is decent. Some young girls wear skimpy or tight dresses and they go about in a semi-naked state which is not good,” says Milanzi.
“And I believe that the banning of the mixing of boys and girls during prayers or other activities like workshops is also good because it limits the temptations of engaging in pre-marital sex.”
Another 19-year-old youth, who only identified himself as Imraan, is also a follower of Islam. He agrees with the view that the Holy Month of Ramadan also enforces discipline among the youths.
1.6 BILLION MUSLIMS
There are an estimated 1.6 billion Muslims around the world, making Islam the world’s second-largest religious tradition after Christianity, according to the December 2012 Global Religious Landscape report from the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life.
The Pew Research analysis notes that nearly two-thirds or 62% of Muslims live in the Asia-Pacific region. In fact, the Pew Research indicates that more Muslims live in India and Pakistan where there are 344 million followers than in the entire Middle East-North Africa region with 317 million.
Local Islamic groups have put the number of Muslims in Zimbabwe at 1.2 million but some researchers and various organizations believe that there are less than 100,000 Muslims in the country, dominated by Christianity and local traditional beliefs.