The whole 29 or 30 days of the Islamic calendars ninth month are spent in commemoration of the first revelation of the Quran to the prophet Muhammad, and the new moon signifies its beginning. This annual tradition is the holiest for Muslims, where they practice all the elements of righteousness and guard themselves against all manners of evil. But this does not mean that their lives should be put on hold to observe the rituals. They are, in fact, encouraged to go about their daily routines with normalcy. Even the most devout observer doesnt let the events of this month interfere with daily affairs.
During the holy month, observant Muslims practice the five pillars of Islam. These are Shahadah, the recital of the Muslim faith, Salat, the performance of ritual prayers five times every day, Zakat al-Fitr, or alms-giving, Sawm, fasting for the whole duration of the month, and Hajj, or the pilgrimage to Mecca, the holy land.
Of these, the most well-known, and most difficult to complete, is Salat, or fasting. Referenced in Chapter 2 Verse 183 of the Quran, it is prescribed to believers for the purification of the heart and mind. With fasting, Muslims take a hold or their physical desires, abstaining from food, water, cigarettes, alcohol, and all other vices during daylight hours. It is easy to see this as a cruel tradition, considering the length of time it must be done, but the successful observance of this self-discipline is rewarded by spiritual improvement, and a feast on the day of Eid to break the fast.
Before the feast, though, Zakat al-Fitr, or alms-giving, should be performed. It is the obligatory ramadan donation given to the poorer class of fellow Muslims, whereby higher classes appropriate a certain amount of wealth from themselves, including their dependents, and give those to the people financially below them. This is a duty required of every Muslim, devout or not, symbolizing the aim of the faith to unite everyone in celebration. It is not done only by people of a certain financial bracket but is observed by the middle and lower classes as well. This is how privileged Muslims help the less fortunate, forced by their situation to fast rather than by obligation, to celebrate the Eid.
Failing to do Zakat al-Fitr in the given period of time and without a good reason, a Muslim who has completed the difficult task of Sawm is still considered to have sinned. This is because Sawm is meant to develop the self, and if viewed in high contrast to Zakat al-Fitr, can be considered a selfish act. Compared to fasting, Zakat al-Fitr symbolizes true sacrifice by imparting wealth without the expectation of a return and is often the only means with which the poor can spend time with the rich.
The Ramadan unites Muslims from all over the world through their observance of the five pillars of Islam. Dealing with hunger and the looming charity before the Eid, it can be physically and financially challenging even to devout Muslims. This 30 days of religious unity is amazing to behold, and the moral and spiritual reward is nothing short of humbling.