Ask For The Moon

The lunar cycle governs the Islamic calendar. The two most anticipated sightings of the moon are in the months of Ramzan and Shawwal. The new moon of Ramzan marks the beginning of the holy month of fasting and the new moon of Shawwal signals its end and the festivities of Eid al-Fitr. So, like everyone else, on the evening of April 23, we were glued to news channels and the flurry of messages in our family groups to find out if the moon had been sighted in Delhi. By 8 pm, we found out that people in Kerala and the Gulf had seen the thin crescent, but alas, not in Delhi. We would have to wait for another day—the month of Ramzan would begin from April 25 in the national capital. This year, there was not much controversy about the sighting of the moon. Many insist that only a sighting by the naked eye counts and cloud cover or pollution can easily skew observation. That’s why the date of the first day of Ramzan differs from place to place. Lately, in most of India, the first day of Ramzan and Eid have been usually celebrated a day after the rest of the world.

Holy Tidings

As soon as the moon is sighted, we start preparations for the next day’s sehri (pre-dawn meal), which signals the start of the fast. There are specific prayers to be recited on the sighting of the moon on the shab or eve of the first day of Ramzan. Excitement builds as we prepare to spend the holy month in spiritual pursuits. We recite the Quran and try to finish the entire book within the month, setting goals for its completion. I too prepared myself to achieve these goals.

What’s In A Name?

Barely does the controversy over the sighting of the moon die down does another one erupt, almost like clockwork. For many years now, Indian Muslims have been debating whether they should wish each other Ramzan Mubarak or the more Arabicised Ramadan Mubarak/Kareem. My answer to this hairsplitting is that a rose by any other name smells just as sweet—we should concentrate on the piety and spirit of the month, not the pronunciation. People have become more aware of the Arabic variant thanks to globalisation. In South Asia, we usually refer to the month as Ramzan as Hindustani uses the Persian pronunciation—the alphabet  is pronounced ‘zwad’ in Persian and ‘dwad’ in Arabic.

Beyond Food And Water

“O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that ye may (learn) self-restraint,” says the Quran. The purpose of a roza (fast) is not to stay hungry and thirsty, but to learn self-restraint. Thus, the roza applies to the tongue too—one must not utter anything harsh in anger, malice, spite or cruelty. The eyes must guard against being attracted to evil and one should raise one’s voice on witnessing oppression. The body must not commit wrongful acts. The heart and mind must remain engrossed in thoughts of God and spirituality. Charity, an important tenet of Islam, assumes even more significance during the holy month.

Banquet For The Soul

While all able-bodied adults are enjoined to fast, the sick and aged are exempt. Due to certain medical reasons, I haven’t been fasting for the past five years and give a fidya (compensation) based on the amount I would spend on my sehri and iftar to the needy. However, I follow all the other practices and spend my days praying and reading religious texts. Every year, I used to do a series of posts on social media called #DastarkhwaneRamzan, where I would post an easy to follow recipe for iftar. This year, things are different—there is a lockdown, widespread economic distress and many migrant labourers are still on the road and may not have access to iftar if they are fasting. So, I have started telling stories on my Instagram page. I call them #DastarkhwaneRamzan for the soul. It is my way of connecting with children and adults. My afternoon goes in choosing and recording the story. These are simple tales with a moral that entertain and inform people about Ramzan and human values.

Unlike Any Other

Many of the activities in Ramzan emphasise communal sharing and bonding. But this year, since we are in a lockdown, all prayers must be performed at home. If the restrictions continue, we might even have to offer Eid prayers at home. Since many people are going hungry during the lockdown, we should refrain from unnecessary spending and use that money for charity instead. This is the year to return to the basics: piety, devotion and connecting with Allah in solitude, as Prophet Muhammad did centuries ago in a cave in Mecca.

Rana Safvi is a historian, author and blogger

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