Quick Facts and Stats
- Summary: A Holy Month in the Islamic calendar celebrating the revelation of the Quran.
- 2019 Date: May 5- June 4 (This varies place to place as it is based upon the sighting of the crescent moon)
- Celebrated by: Muslims
- Linked Holidays: Laylat al-Qadr, Eid al-Fitr
Background / Theological Significance
Ramadan is the ninth and most holy month of the Islamic calendar. It stands out because it marks the first revelation of the Quran to Muhammad. It is also seen as the month in which all the revelations from God came to humanity including the revelation to Abraham, the Torah, the Psalms, and the Gospels.
Revelation is a hugely important theological concept in Abrahamic theology. God is associated closely with Truth and is seen as its ultimate source. Placing the source of ultimate truth outside of humanity means that it is not by our own strength, intelligence, or ability that we gain understanding and wisdom, but by our humility and dedication to something greater than ourselves. It also means that those things and people that can help us to connect to God take on a profound significance, this is how certain things become designated as ‘holy’ in Abrahamic faiths.
On both counts Islam is perhaps the purest example. The level of the respect for the Quran surpasses that of any other holy text because the theological significance is different. Many people try to draw the parallel between the Quran and the Bible in the same way that they try to draw a parallel between Jesus and Muhammad. Theologically, however, a better comparison would be Muhammad and the Bible, and Jesus and the Quran. This is because the first pair (Muhammad and the Bible) provide the way for people to come to know the later pair (Jesus and the Quran) which are believed to be The Word of God. The theological significance of Ramadan then, is God’s word put into human words; just as Christians celebrate the Incarnation at Christmas as God’s word made human flesh.
Ramadan is therefore a time of celebration, but the celebration does not take the form of a feast, like Christmas. Instead the opposite is true, fasting and prayer. This should be interpreted as no less joyful a celebration, it is a demonstration of dedication. The arrival of the Quran means that earth has been brought that much closer to heaven, and so Muslims show humility, peace, and charity in order to live out the truth that has been given.
The revelation of the Quran took place in 610 CE. Muhammad, in his 40s retreated to caves in the mountains of al-Hirā. On one of these occasions the Angel Gabriel appeared before Muhammad grabbed him and commanded him to read. Muhammad was understandably terrified and, according to tradition refused twice before asking what he was supposed to read. When Gabriel responded
“Proclaim! in the name of thy Lord and Cherisher, Who
created Man out of a clot of congealed blood:
Proclaim! And thy Lord is Most Bountiful, –
Who taught by the pen –
Taught Man that which he knew not.”
“Thou art a messenger of the God and I am Gabriel”
Muhammad’s response was to run out of the cave in fear. Gabriel appeared again in the sky outside the cave, turning the sky green. When Muhammad made it home he told his family what had happened. Muhammad’s wife Khadija was there with her cousin Waraqah ibn Nawfal, both of whom were devout Christians. It was Waraqah ibn Nawfal, a Nestorian Christian Monk, who told Muhammad that he had been chosen as a Prophet of God. Over the next 30 days he returned to the cave and received the entire revelation, which is the Quran.
Since this time, Ramadan has been celebrated by the entire Muslim community. Evolving slowly as the community has grown and spread across the globe. But always maintaining its core focus on devotion and celebration.
Fulfilling the observances throughout the month is one of the Five Pillars of Islam. The most famous and largest commitment during the month is the requirement to fast between dawn and sunset. This means abstaining from food, drink, and sexual activity. This fasting is seen as compulsory but exceptions are made on the grounds of health, age, and further exceptions made for muslims who are travelling, menstruating, pregnant, or breastfeeding. There is an expectation for each day of fasting missed to be made up for later. On each fast day Muslims gather for meals together before sunrise, called the Suhur, and after sunset, called the Iftar. These abstentions extend to sin, Muslims are called to more closely dedicate themselves to being honest, kind, and patient.
These exercises in self control bring the practitioners closer to understanding both God and those people who are less fortunate. Homeless and hungry people are often invited to the Iftar’s at local Mosques. Acts of charity become a focus of the month.
Alongside charity, acts of study and devotion are performed to bring people closer to God. More time is spent in prayer and in reading passages from the Quran. The aim is to recite the entire Quran over the course of the month. Returning the words of God to a central place in the community, in the hopes that it will shape the people in peaceful, charitable, and healthy communities.