This week marks the beginning of the Muslim month of Ramadan. Mr. Gaucher Kadam has compiled some information to help us learn a little about the traditions, history, and significance of the month and how it is celebrated in Senegal.
Ramadan is about struggling with your inner human desires. It is more than abstaining from food, drink, cigarettes, between sunrise and sunset; nor is it a question of external behavior. It is a private commitment between you and God. It's a fight against the inner man.
It's also a good time to take stock of your personal weaknesses. If you secretly break your fast, only you and God will know it. As a result, it is essentially an annual test of your faith for a whole month. - Hanifa Deen
Ramadan is the 9th month of the Muslim calendar. This month marks the beginning of the revelation of the Qur'an revealed to Muhammad, the prophet of the Muslims and, to sanctify this month, it was decided that Muslims would fast.
The rules of fasting were established from the Koran and the prophetic traditions. Fasting during this month is one of the five pillars of Islam.
The principle of fasting is linked to that of self-control and mastery of the will to dominate one's passions, to resist hunger, thirst, and so on. It is a spiritual lesson as well as a state of purification.
From sunrise to sunset every day for 29 or 30 days, Muslims completely abstain from eating, drinking, smoking. They also refrain from abusing anyone, swearing, and even getting angry or looking at anything illegal.
The fast of the month of Ramadan is part of this education, this elevation of the soul. Ramadan is a period that inculcates discipline and observance of obedience to the laws of God.
The first day of the month is calculated based on both physical observations of the moon and astronomical calculations. This first day is not the same from one place to another because, in some places, they rely heavily on the observation of the moon while others, refer entirely to the calculations.
The Ritual and Rules of Fasting
Daily fasting begins with the formulation of the intention to perform it as a religious act.
During daytime fasting, Muslims must abstain from all the prohibitions above mentioned until after sunset prayer around 7:00 pm or so. Past that prayer, all the pleasures (eating, drinking, etc.) become lawful.
Every Muslim who reached the age of puberty is normally forced to fast. However, you are not obliged to fast if your health does not allow. The following cases are exempt from fasting:
The mentally ill until he/she discovers the reason
The woman in periods of menstruation
The adolescent until puberty
The traveler far from home
The sick person
The old man who feel too weak
The woman who is breastfeeding
The pregnant woman
The days of fasting that are lost for the reasons mentioned above must be made up during the year when the Muslim is in better conditions to do it.
Exemption from fasting at all (fasting impossible to perform) is allowed if the Muslim feeds one or more poor. Their number and the amount of food given are proportional to the wealth of the individual.
To start the fast, a first meal is served before dawn, and the next one should be only after sunset, when the fast breaks. As Ramadan focuses on community life, often Muslims pray at the nearest mosque and invite friends.
The last 10 days of Ramadan are considered highly blessed. The "night of fate", Laylat al-Qadr, is considered the night during which the Qur'an was revealed to Muhammad the Prophet. For many Muslims, this period is marked by a particular spiritual intensity, and they spend these nights praying and reciting the Qur'an.
A Tradition in Senegal
In Senegal, the month of Ramadan is considered a moment of grace, forgiveness and especially sharing. Everyone multiplies gestures of kindness towards their fellows hoping to have reward from Allah.
One of the guiding principles of this sacred month in Senegal are sharing and solidarity, especially when Ndogou, a kind of community dinner, are organized in neighborhoods of Dakar and suburbs by young volunteers. These young men and women are mobilized for the Ndogou solidarity. They collect donations and money from people to be able to serve coffee or milk, and bread and dates each evening to people for free. It has been so successful that they are sponsored by major companies in the country now.
Korité (Eid el Fitr)
Korité celebrates the end of Ramadan. This is the day when, early in the morning, Senegalese Muslims dress up with their most beautiful boubous and go to various places set up for prayers with their families to be in communion with God.
After the prayer, they return home and eat their bowl of lakh, a a milk porridge with its yogurt. This has long been considered an almost obligatory food in the morning of Korité.
On the day of Eid el Fitr or Korité, it is better to serve the lakh when returning from the mosque. While some people choose to eat the lakh naturally, others prefer to decorate it with optional ingredients such as nutmeg, raisin, orange, coconut, vanilla sugar…
Unlike Tabaski, Senegalese people will rather buy chicken instead of a ram for the main meal of the day at lunch.
Korité is also an opportunity to visit family and friends, and to ask forgiveness--In Wolof, you say: Bal maa Akh. After lunch, children go in neighborhoods, knocking on doors and asking for Ndewenel (presents), hoping to get a few coins.
People fasting are not looking for sympathy or pity. They chose to do it, not only to comply with one of the 5 pillars of Islam but also to get the most of blessings, and rewards from God. In sum, it’s a great opportunity to ask God for forgiveness of all sins and to be granted a place into Paradise.
If you are not fasting, don’t feel that you have to change your habits in terms of eating and drinking because you have friends or colleagues fasting around you. However, you should be discreet when eating and drinking around them.
The real challenge for people fasting is to be able to do what we do every day without complaints, or resentment towards fellows who are not fasting. It is also to be able to go through our normal daily routine with the hope that God will accept our fast.
Show concern and awareness for those who are fasting when you talk
Offer help if needed (because they may feel weak)
Just be natural when around those who are fasting
Be discreet and respectful when you eat. There is no need to hide, but do be considerate!
Keep in mind that colleagues or students who seem lethargic may have been up late praying or up early eating
Remember that some people will dress more conservatively during this month
Mock them because they are fasting
Eat in front of them, trying to tempt or goad them
Offer them food or water
Criticize the religion
In the classrooms...
Ask students who are fasting about their fast, and Ramadan
Organize a small discussion about the subject if possible
Invite someone such as a parent or volunteer to come talk about it to the class
Be aware that students could seem lazy or tired due to their fast
Talk about Ramadan traditions in Muslims countries around the world