The material world” while Shiite Muslims emphasize “martyrdom

The Islamic faith is the second largest religion worldwide,
after Christianity. Ramadan is one of the, if not, the most important holiday
in the Islamic faith. Out of 1.6 billion people, about 25 percent of the global
population is Muslim. In addition, there are more than 3 million Muslims in the
United States. There are two types of Islamic sects: Sunni and Shiite. This
predates to the notion that after the death of the prophet Muhammad, the Ummah, or muslim community had a
disagreement about who succeeded him. Shiite Muslims believe that Muhammad’s
cousin Ali, succeeded him. On the other hand, the Sunnis believe that Ali and
the three other caliphs before him, Abu Bakr, ‘Umar b. al-Khattab, and ‘Uthman
b. ‘Affanm have equal opportunities to succeed Muhammad. In terms of beliefs
and practices, essentially, the main difference between the two is that Sunni Muslims
emphasize “God’s power in the material world” while Shiite Muslims emphasize
“martyrdom and sacrifice” (Harney, 2016). Sunni Muslims are dominating the
Islamic world with 85 percent of them living across the Arab states, Turkey,
Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Malaysia, and Indonesia (Harney, 2016) The other
15 percent are Shiite Muslims living in Iran, Iraq, and Bahrain. Though both
sects tend to have opposing opinions about many issues, they place great value
over the holiday of Ramadan. Just like in any religion, society has progressed
over the years across the globe, causing traditions to modernize and decline in
value. Especially in more diverse countries such as the United States, the
levels of religious commitment have waned, as opposed to countries that are
theocracies, meaning the nation is ruled by a religion (Brodd, 2013). Thus in
Muslim holidays such as Ramadan, it is a much more public affair. Those who
celebrate it tend to overindulge, straying away from its core values.

            Ramadan is
a month long holiday where Muslims dedicate their time to reflect upon
themselves on top of fulfilling the five pillars of faith, with exclusion to hajj or pilgrimage. These major
practices include testimony of faith (shahada),
daily prayers (salat), and charity (zakat). Ramadan originates from the
Arabic root ‘ar-ramad’ or ‘ramida,’ which stands for “scarcity of rations
(Maslaha, 2016). But the most important one is what Ramadan is all about, which
is fasting or sawm. Ramadan occurs on
the ninth out of tenth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, arriving on the
observation of the new moon. During the holiday, Muslims fast from sunrise to
sunset. Sick, elderly, and pregnant women are exempt from this rule
(History.com, 2010). In addition from abstaining from food, they try to abstain
from smoking and sex as well. Suhoor
is eaten before sunrise, and after sunset iftar
is eaten and celebrated with friends and family. Prophet Muhammad apparently
broke his fast every day by eating a date, which is now practiced by the ummah (Maslaha, 2016). The purpose of
Ramadan is to worship, obey, and thank God. On top of that it is a time for
Muslims to reflect, strengthen their faith, and forgive. It is also believed
that their good deeds would come back to them later in the year (Maslaha,
2016). Ramadan after sundown is a huge, festive party where people reconnect
with their family and friends.

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Though the holiday is a blessed
month, the last ten nights of Ramadan is the most important. The 27th night is
called the Lailat al-Qadr or the
“Night of Power” where the angel Gabriel tells Muhammad the first verses of the
Qur’an (Mansoor, 2008). The first several days of the tenth month is another
time for celebration, also known as Eid-ul-fitr, based off the observation of
the crescent moon. It marks the end of the fast, and a way for people to give
thanks to God for the blessed month (Ghayyur, 2017). Eid-ul-fitr is celebrated
on different days in different countries. On the first morning of Eid-ul-fitr,
Muslims take a bath and indulge in dates and sweets. They go to mosques to
worship and pray special prayers to Allah, and greet each other by saying “Eid
Mubarak,” meaning happiness to everyone (The Holiday Spot, 2015). In addition,
elders give money to kids, wear nice clothes and indulge in food.

The holiday of Ramadan has changed
over the years as time progressed. Before, Muslims in the neighborhood would
slaughter a sheep and feast on that after sundown. They would eat dates, water,
and laban (fermented milk). It would take hours to make some of the traditional
food, but as publicity for the holiday increased, more restaurants and stores
have pre-made meals and doing most of the dirty work, shaving hours from
preparation. There were not any clocks at the time, so they would determine the
time by putting a stick in the ground and look at its shadow. After sundown,
they would use the stars to keep track of the time. People were a lot more religious
than they are now, it was also more simple. It was based more on the history
and values of the traditions. After sundown, Ramadan tents serve as a meeting
and celebratory place for Muslims. Their appearances have become more flashy.

Nowadays, people have become more materialistic and overindulge. It has become
more of a festival throughout the whole month. The coordinator of the New
Muslim Centre, Taher Khalid, said “the concept of Ramadan is to exercise
self-discipline, to refrain from expressing your physical desires. All the
music and excessive consumption of food in these tents go against it.” Overall,
Muslims are separating from the true meanings of the holiday (Irshad, 2004).

Though many Muslims celebrate
Ramadan, their practices and when they celebrate it tend to vary depending on
the region or if they identify as a Shiite or Sunni Muslim, as mentioned
earlier. For example, the Swahili people from the East African coast find a
correlation between their own solar year as well as the Islamic lunar year. The
Swahili people celebrate Ramadan on the last month as opposed to the ninth
month. In Mombasa, Kenya, the beginning of Ramadan is marked by the firing of
two cannons. Their main meal is breakfast following the post-evening prayers.

Muslims in America or other Western countries have to bend their work schedules
around Ramadan, while Ramadan is already taken into account for those in the
Middle East (Mikati, 2015). An American Muslim focuses more on restoring
harmony while everybody else focuses on enforcing God’s laws. In Middle Eastern
countries, Ramadan is a public, national holiday which screen special movies
and shows. Restaurants and shops are usually open from sunset to sunrise in
dense Muslim populations. In America, Ramadan is not a national, public holiday
so it is celebrated in smaller Muslim communities. This changes the way Muslims
observe the holidays depending on where it is celebrated, the deeper meanings
can alter.

Apart from cultural differences,
Muslims differ from age group and social strata. For example, Muslims who are
in their mid-30’s and older place greater significance on religious
participation than those who are in their late teens-early 30’s. This can range
from attending mosque, reading the Qu’ran, and the frequency of their prayers.

Outside of the Middle East and North Africa, the roles are reversed, such as in
Russia, where the younger population is more devoted than their elders. The Pew
survey also proved that males are more likely to go to mosque than their
latter. Muslims in the eastern region create more of the Sunni and Shiite
distinction than those in western regions where an individual is just labeled
as a “Muslim.” (Pew Research Center, 2012).

The history and practices of Ramadan
highlight Smart’s mythological, ritual, and social dimensions. The mythological
dimension is based off the “narratives that connect human events and
experiences to a transcendent world” and also pertains to its origins. This
predates to the Prophet Muhammad, who has been given the first few verses of
the Qur’an by angel Gabriel. A lot of Islamic countries enforce God’s laws and
they also believe that good deeds, will result in them being rewarded as well.

The ritual dimension deals with the acts of worship and prayers in religious
ceremonies. This is shown through the extra prayers at night and worshipping
Allah. This is also shown through suhoor,
the pre-dawn meal, the post sun-down meal called “iftar” where the fast is
broken by eating a date, the huge feasts that occur with friends and family,
and Eid-ul-fitr, where people have special prayers and gift exchanges. Ramadan
marks the observance of the new moon. Lastly, the social dimension states that
religions are “inevitably and necessarily social (Brodd, 2013). When sun-down
approaches, Ramadan becomes a month of festivals and fun as families and
friends join together to feast on elaborate traditional food under Ramadan
tents. These also include gift exchanges, especially from elderly people to
kids.

Ultimately, Ramadan is the holiest
month of the year for those of the Islamic faith. It teaches believers
self-discipline as they fast from sunrise to sundown. Moreover, it gives them a
time to reflect and do good deeds in the hopes of being rewarded later on. For
the most part, Ramadan’s core values and traditions are valued and kept, but
have slightly different versions depending on the region. The extent of one’s
religious participation can also depend on things like someone’s age and
gender. As societies modernize, Ramadan does too. Lastly, the origins and
practices of Ramadan are reflective of Smart’s mythological, ritual, and social
dimensions. 

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