I think you’ll like to hear how the month of Ramazan fasting is observed in the Indian subcontinent. So I thought I’ll share how I used to observe Ramazan fasting in Sri Lanka when I was a Sri Lankan Muslim teenage boy.
The Sri Lankan Muslims form a small minority community of around 1.5 to 2 million people or around 9% of Sri Lanka’s population. As such Ramazan fasting, the fourth pillar of Islam is a time eagerly awaited by all Muslims, young and old alike as a time for spiritual enhancement with a relaxed atmosphere in contrast to the routine life of the rest of the year.
In a typical Sri Lankan Muslim house we get up before dawn at about 3 or 4 a.m. to have a meal, usually of rice and curry before beginning the fast. Afterwards we make our ‘Neeyath’ -the resolution where we declare that ‘we’d observe the mandatory fast of that day’. By this time it’ll be time up for the Dawn prayers (Fagr/Subahu), which marks the beginning of the fasting period of the day.
It would still be pitch dark outside but men would go to the mosque for the Dawn (Fagr) prayers and women would pray at home. Thereafter we would try to get some sleep. For the office workers or businessmen it would mean a small nap and they’ll leave for work as daylight breaks. Since Sri Lanka is a Buddhist country the working Muslims don’t have privileges such as shorter work hours like in Arab countries and have to work the normal routine. Though difficult in the first few days of Ramazan it’s not that bad as days go on.
Those at home would sleep till around 9-10 a.m in the morning. Thereafter women getup and start household chores, recite the Quran (Koran), and do some sewing work, etc. and later on in the evening prepare some snacks or short-eats for breaking fast. Most Muslim kids here go to Muslim schools, which give holidays for Ramazan. So for boys and girls Ramazan is a time of joy and leisure where they form groups and play indoor games like Carom whole day long avoiding exhaustive sports. By evening the working crowd would have returned home and everyone would be eagerly waiting to hear the call for the Evening (Maghrib) prayers to break fast.
In a Muslim home for breaking fast in addition to dried date fruits (and those who can afford, have snacks or short-eats) we always drink a bowl of “Kangi”. Kangi is a kind of gruel/soup prepared from rice, which is usually made and distributed by the Sri Lankan mosques to Muslim households. After breaking fast and praying Maghrib prayers we’d recite the Quran for about an hour or so until the Night (Esha) prayers.
Here in Sri Lanka only men go to the mosque for prayers and Muslim women pray at home. But in the Ramazan fasting period mosques arrange for a special location or segregate and cover part of the mosque for women to come and pray the Night (Esha) prayers and the special Ramazan ‘Taraweeh’ prayers which takes about an hour.
By the time night prayers are over it would be past 9 p.m. and every two or tree days we’d have a special ‘Bayan’ (sermon) from a visiting speaker or someone of our community on Islam and related issues. Returning home after prayers women prepare the next days dawn meal and then we all retire to bed with the happy thoughts in anticipation of another day of fasting.
Since Sri Lanka is a tropical island with roughly equal daylight and nighttime throughout the year in whichever season Ramadan happens to fall we have roughly around 13 hours of fasting.
Alhamdullilah, I am happy to say most Sri Lankan Muslims fast and a majority of them attend prayers at mosques especially during the Ramazan period. In addition many rich Muslims distribute their Zakat money among the poor in this month. Lot of sadakah and charity work are also done during this month.
We conclude Ramazan with the Id’ul Fitr festival day, on which we go to the mosque in the morning just after sunrise wearing new cloths and pray and then listen to a sermon and afterwards give Salaams and hugs to all our village folks. The festival day in Sri Lanka is also a day of family unions where extended families living in different areas come to their parental houses and celebrate the festival with a grand launch. Undoubtedly the happiest on this special day are the kids as they receive ‘Festival money’ as gifts from parents and relatives, which fill their heart with joy.
Sadly all is not merry in my island nation.
Sri Lanka is just recovering after a bloody 20 year long seperatist war with the LTTE alias Tamil Tigers or Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The Muslims from the north and eastern parts of the country are finding Ramazan particularly difficult this year due to devastations caused by the war as well as the slow recovery from the 2004 Asian Tsunami.
The Muslim majority areas of Sri Lanka in the eastern province were the worst hit areas in Sri Lanka from the Tsunami. More than 40,000 Sri Lankans lost their lives from the tsunami of which more than 15,000 were Sri Lankan Muslims in addition to other devastations. Even 6 years after the tsunami, rehabilitation in Muslim parts of Sri Lanka has been very slow and yet to be complete. So many thousands of Sri Lankan Muslims are still displaced by the long war and tsunami and will be observing their Ramazan fasting from refugee camps living in squalid conditions…
This is how Sri Lanka Muslims observe the month of Ramazan fasting. I would like to hear about how Ramazan fasting is around the world. Please leave a comment and share how is Ramazan fasting in your country. May Allah be pleased with you (Jazakumullahu haira)