Depending on the sighting of the moon, 4 or 5 June marks the close of Ramadan, the holiest of months that sees followers of Islam fast from dawn to sunset. Ramadan represents the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, beginning around 11 days earlier every year.
“It’s a time that gives us an opportunity for self-reflection,” says Muhammed Shaakir, Imaam of the Avondale Islamic Centre and religious advisor of the New Zealand Muslim Association. “It’s a time for me to reconnect with my creator, a very, very sacred month. Every moment matters, every second counts.”
Ramadan, the month the prophet Mohammed received the Koran, is also one of the Five Pillars of Islam, along with faith in Allah as the only true God, making a pilgrimage to Mecca, charity, and praying five times daily.
The imaam reveals that it’s also a time for rejuvenation, revitalisation, and, to “use 21st century language,” time for “a software update!” Sometimes the month of Ramadan will be referred to as the month of the Koran, and for those like the Imaam, who have memorised the whole book, gives them a chance to reconnect with it.
“It consumes your heart, your focus, your entire being,” he says. “Everything is channelled towards the Koran, whether it be memorising it or revising it or re-examining meanings that I can then relay to my congregation.”
To most non-Muslims, the most famous—and daunting—aspect of Ramadan is the fasting, but Imaam Shaakir says that unless you have an especially physical job then it’s not unbearably demanding.
“The objective is to acquire the quality of self-restraint,” he says. “When in the confines of your own home, you could fake it,and nobody would know—it’s between you and your creator.”
The month of Ramadan is also a time of politeness, when shouting and vulgarity is forbidden, and conflict avoided. “It’s a means of training for the rest of the year,” says the Imaam. “If the behaviour is possible for one month, then it should be possible for the rest of your life as a result!”
So it is as much of a personal journey as it is a religious one?
“Oh yes, absolutely. Again, it’s about your relationship with your creator, making amends with your creator, straightening your books. A time to make up with the fellow people around you, to repay debts, to forgive”.
It is also a time of great charity.
“The Prophet, peace be upon him, was the most generous in the month of Ramadan, and you’ll find that Muslims across the globe mirror that generosity. With the opening of the fast at sunset, they will even compete with each other about who can be the most generous!”
Can you describe the feeling after the fast?
“It is of joy and jubilation. We are human beings, animal beings, and it is a basic need for us to consume to survive. Now we are nourishing our bodies. It is said that there are two moments of true happiness; one is when we open our fast, and the other we will meet our creator.There is the satisfaction that you have succeeded, there is a feeling of ecstasy.”
Eid al-Fitr translates as the ‘festival of the ending of the fast’ to mark the end of Ramadan and the beginning of the tenth month. Celebrations vary around the world, but constant is extra prayer and sermons followed by banquets shared with friends and family.
“There is much happiness and joy. Celebrations usually last for a day, but, depending on the family and personal commitments and obligations, can stretch to three or four!”
Imaam Shaakir emphasises the importance of non-Muslims’ understanding during this holy time for the purpose of peace of mind and integration.
“If people in power and positions of employment could be a little flexible with time schedules for Muslim people to make it easier for them, believe me they will be as diligent and compliant as possible, whatever the company requirements are.”