The Guest of all Swansons
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Seasons are like the tides of an ocean. They roll out spirally in quick succession and reshape the world’s environment from time to time. They invariably come with a multiple of months. No one measures a season in the absence of months. And there can be no season without months.
Europeans have so much respect for seasons that when they have an important guest they call him/her an ‘August visitor’. The Gregorian month called August is the peak of summer season and the most comfortable month of the year for the Caucasian race of Europe, hence the term.
Guest in Islam
In Islam, no guest is more venerable than Ramadan. Perhaps, it is more to it rather than to man that Prophet Muhammad referred when he said: “whoever believes in Allah and the ‘Last Day should venerate his guest”. Ramadan’s visiting time is not restricted to any particular season of the year or Gregorian month. Its arrival in the world may be in any season. It is therefore a guest of all seasons.
Effect on Mankind
With Ramadan as a guest, not only the Muslims but the entire mankind is consciously or unconsciously engaged in hospitable activities. Those who cannot fast in it do take advantage of its presence to buy or sell some relevant needs and wants. There can be no indifference to the awful presence of Ramadan in any part of the world.
The Coming of Ramadan
Once every year, something creeps into the world like the early morning light. It moves kaleidoscopically into an arena where the centre becomes its stool. It lifts its veil at dawn and beams its focus on the world with an arresting attention during the days. It then envelops the nights in a shroud of covenant and links the dream of man with its fulfillment.
No one except Allah knows Ra,madan’s port of embarkation. No one knows its destination. All we know of it is that of a guest that is so vividly present in human world and yet so invisible. That is RAMADAN for you, the month of forgiveness, liberation and blessings. Its coming every year is often heralded by a retinue of envoys. The months of ‘Rajab’ and ‘Sha’ban’ are the immediate escorts that alert humanity of its imminent arrival. Like the sun in the midst of stars, when Ramadan ascends the throne in full regalia all other months, lunar and solar, quickly take their bow in its honour.
Call it the king where other months are chiefs and you will be quite right. Call it the doctor in a world of sick people and you will not be wrong. Call it the compass in the wilderness of straying humanity and you would have been precise in truth. Call it the reformer of human soul or the sterilizer of human spirit or even the purifier of human body and you will not be wrong. In its entourage are equally invisible divine ministers such as piety, knowledge, truth, justice and peace, all of which usher it into the world with splendour.
Meaning of Ramadan
Having taken its name from a natural healing phenomenon, this ninth lunar month is truly baking in effect. The word: Ramadan is derived from the Arabic word ramd (meaning to bake). The name emanated from the time before the Islamic calendar, when the month of Ramadan often came in summer. The month thus personifies a baking summer that immediately follows a clement spring. Its mission is to firm up all loose ends in the life of man. And it does that with a touch of perfection.
For pious men and women, the entire month is spent in fasting from dawn to dusk. Such fasting is not about abstinence from foods and drinks alone. It is also about self restraint from all sinful acts that constitute grave iniquities. As a matter of fact, Ramadan is about repackaging of human destinies through new and sincere resolutions.
Figuratively, fasting during this sacred month is believed to be a burner of all sins.
The Month of Revelation
It was in this glorious month that the revelation of the Qur’an to Prophet Muhammad (SAW) first began.
In this month, all gates of paradise, according to the Prophet, are open while those of hell are closed. The first ten days in it are pregnant with blessings galore for those of the Muslim Ummah who need blessings and seek them. The next ten days personify forgiveness for those who realize the gravity of their sinful acts, repent on them and resolve never to return to such acts again. The last ten days are meant for the liberation of mankind from the manacles of Satan. Whoever is so liberated automatically becomes like a new born baby arriving in a new world with a tabularasa (clean slate).
The Month of Destiny
In the last ten days is a particular night called Laylatul Qadr (the night of Power) in which the secret of human destiny is encapsulated. Meeting that night consciously and spiritually is like securing the master key to one’s own apartment in Paradise. But secure such key, one needs to remain awake throughout those nights to be fortunate to meet the great night of Power. Incidentally, Allah did not disclose even to Prophet Muhammad (SAW), which particular night it is. But by asking the Muslims to look for it in the odd nights of the last ten days, the Prophet has helped the global Muslim Ummah tremendously.
Umrah and I‘tikaf
During the last ten days of Ramadan, some willing Muslims, in accordance with the tradition of Prophet Muhammad (SAW), do go for Umrah (Lesser Hajj) in Makkah or take to I’tikaf (spiritual seclusion) locally, to reaffirm their total submission to Allah. Following this is a special session of charity made compulsory for all Muslims irrespective of age, gender and status. During that session, to give to the poor and the needy is not a matter of choice for those who have enough. This type of charity is called Zakatul Fitr or Sadaqatul Fitr. It is traditionally given in the very early morning of Ramadan Festival Day or the night before it to enable the poor and the needy celebrate the festival with the Ummah in a festive mood.
The first day of the month after Ramadan (Shawwal) is spent in great celebrations and joy and it is observed as the ‘Festival of Breaking the Fast (Eidul Fitr).
Where else can one find a guest like Ramadan? Where else can one meet a guest like Ramadan that hosts his host and heals him of ignorance and ailments? That is why Muslims often say in this unique month especially when the crescent is sighted: ‘RAMADAN KARIM’ which means ‘Venerable Ramadan’.
Sighting the Crescent
To start or end fasting in the month of Ramadan, sighting the crescent is just symbolic. Without sighting the crescent, the indices of recognizing the time to start or end the month are naturally vivid to those who care.
It is not for fun that Ramadan is preceded by two glorious lunar months of Rajab and Sha’ban. The number of days in those two months is to enable any serious Muslim to know the time of arrival of Ramadan and prepare for it. In Hijrah calendar, no lunar month exceeds 30 days and none is less than 29 days.
Crescent or no crescent, therefore, it is very possible and easy to know when to start Ramadan or end it every year. The confusion often engineered by some people through the sighting of the crescent is therefore unnecessary and avoidable. If Rajab is 30 or 29 days, no noise is made in looking for the crescent before starting Sha’ban. As soon as Rajab ends, Sha’ban starts.
Dynamism of Islam
Islam is such a dynamic religion in which things like sighting the crescent are not made rigid. Sighting the crescent is not the only condition for starting the great month. After all, the new crescent is not necessarily visible to all eyes at any given time in any locality. That is why a few people who may be privileged to sight it are implored to invite some others to witness it and then inform the recognized authorities who, in turn, announce the arrival of Ramadan to the Muslim community in the locality or region.
Globalization of Ramadan
Besides faith (Iman) and pilgrimage (Hajj) which are the first and last pillars of Islam, nothing else is really globally uniform in practical terms with regards to timing in Islam. The variation in geography has legitimized the variation of time in the observance of Salat, Sawm and Zakat. Iman is global because it resides permanently in the minds of the Muslims irrespective of their localities. Hajj is equally global in uniformity because it is performed in only one place at a particular time. In a world where a gap of about nine to eleven hours exists between one part of the world and another, talking of global uniformity in starting or ending Ramadan can only border on sheer ignorance. For instance, it is impossible for the Korean Muslims living in Korea and their English brethren residing in England to start Ramadan on the same day. Even within Nigeria, all Muslims can only start Ramadan on the same day, if they have equal opportunity to meteorological information and geographical atmospheres. And even with that, it is not possible for them all to start or end daily fasting at the same time. That is why the announcement or publication of Ramadan timing can only be according to the various localities.
That Ramadan fasting is prescribed as a universal obligation for all Muslims in a particular month is deliberate. Allah who did the prescription is not oblivious of the geographical variations in the world. Neither is He unaware of the possible invisibility of a new crescent to most eyes at particular times. The design is to allow for the reverberation of the effect of Ramadan across the world. And time variation in worship or celebration of festivals is not peculiar to Islam. Even in Christianity, neither Easter nor Christmas is globally celebrated in one day. And, there is no media noise about it in Nigeria. It is only when there is variation in starting of fast in Ramadan that Nigerian media becomes negatively active in its reportage. As a matter of fact, what is effectively global about Ramadan fasting is the month and not the time of starting or ending the fasting. The time of dawn and that of dusk vary from locality to locality. It is therefore possible for the Muslims in one part of the world to be breaking their daily fast at a time when their brethren in another part of the world are commencing theirs. The genuineness or otherwise of Ramadan fasting is not to be judged by man. That is why Allah is reported by Prophet Muhammad (SAW) as saying in a sacred Hadith (Hadith ul Qudsi) thus: “Fasting is mine and I am the One to grant rewards on it.”