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Friday, October 27, 2006

Fasting Origins and Belief

Ramadan is the name of the ninth and holiest month of the Islamic lunar calendar, which sees much of the world's Muslim population fasting during daylight hours. The fast, also known commonly known as Ramadan, is the main religious observance associated with the month, however prayers, charity, and self-accountability are especially stressed during the whole month, too.

During Ramadan, purity of both thought and action is important, so Muslims are expected to put more effort into refraining from such negative emotions as anger, envy and greed. They are encouraged to read the Koran, the central religious text of Islam.

Emphasising the spirit of the month, there is the belief that during Ramadan the gates of Heaven open and the gates of Hell close. It is a time of spiritual contemplation and tolerance, an attempt to get closer to God and unify with humanity, and to help those in need. The observant try to focus on more spiritual things during the month, and many who consider themselves rather lax Muslims try to be a little better. Those that do not fast, and have the means to do so, give to charity and feed the needy.

People also tend to treat it as a period of rejuventation for the year ahead or "a detox for the soul". The last ten days of that month is mainly spent reading scriptures, because it is believed that all sins of the past year can be forgiven throughout this period.

Similarities with other Abrahamic religions

Some scholars believe the idea of fasting in Islam arose from the Judaeo-Christian influences prevalent in Arabia during the seventh century of the Christian era, a time the Prophet Muhammad lived. There was a tendency to lead an ascetic life and this had an important influence on Islam's calling on believers to fast.

Ramadan has parallels in the Jewish celebration of Yom Kippur and the Christian practice of Lent in that they are also a period of atonement and forgiveness. But unlike earlier practices, which called for abstinence from sex, food and drink from sunset to sunset, Islam lightens the burden so that the fast is only observed from sunrise to sunset. People who are ill or traveling, children and pregnant women are excluded from the fast.

Fasting at Ramadan

You cannot impose something from the outside and hope it will affect you inside - it has to work from the inside out.
Ali Yildirim

The act of fasting is said to redirect the heart away from worldly activities, its purpose being to cleanse the inner soul and free it from harm. Properly observing the fast is supposed to induce a comfortable feeling of peace and calm. It also allows Muslims to practice self-discipline, sacrifice, as well as sympathy for those who are less fortunate, intending to make Muslims more generous and charitable.

It is believed that Islam is a religion of choice, not race or creed, and this underpins all religious observances. Consequently, fasting should not be forced, otherwise it has not religious signifance or spiritual benefit. The second Sura of the Koran, verse 257 says: "There must be no coercion in matters of faith". Fasting should be undertaken by those can endure, enjoy or truly want to do it. It should not be carried out with irritability, but with a joy of spirit that encompasses the month itself.

Likewise a person cannot be forced or pressurised into fasting. No one has the right to pronounce they are "a better Muslim" than those that don't fast, or may boast they have done unnecessary extra hours. Indeed, the belief is that in such cases the fasting is rendered null and void in religious terms.

Due to the special relationship between Turks and Islam, and the history between the two, not all Turks are strict Muslims that enforce all the religious observances of the religion. More than twice in their history, Turks have tried to bring about a "reformation" of Islamic religious practices, most notably with the concept of humanism and sufism during the Seljuk dynastic period in the Middle Ages and the late 1920s modernisation drive after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, with the creation of a Turkish secular republic.

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