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23 July, 2014

Why Do Muslim celebrate Ramadan?


       At the time of  Muhammad's birth in 570 CE, Mecca was both the religious and the commercial center of the vast Arabian peninsula.  The Arabs were mostly nomads, with herds of camels and they came to Mecca both to worship at its Grand Mosque, and to buy the few luxuries that they could afford.  Mecca had many wealthy merchants, who sent caravans northwards to buy and sell goods in such cosmopolitan cities as Jerusalem and Damascus; and it also had body of hereditary religious leaders who exercised power in both spiritual and civil affairs.

A folio from an early Quran, written in Kufic script - period 8th - 9th century.

       Muhammad's family was related to the religious leadership, and had the minor role of supplying water for pilgrims to the Grand Mosque.  His father died before he was born, and his mother died when he was aged eight, so an uncle raised him.  As a young man he caught the attention of a widow, Kadija, who was a wealthy merchant; and she employed him to lead a caravan to Jerusalem.  On this journey, he met many Christians and Jews, including a Christian monk, whose ideas made a deep impression on him.  

       After his return to Mecca he and Khadija married, and he continued to lead caravans for her.  But at the age of forty he abandoned this work, and spent much of his time thinking about religious matters.  Then, while he was alone for a month on a mountain outside Mecca, he had a vision of angel Gabriel, who gave him a series of messages from God, and ordered him to convey them to his people.  At first he dreaded the ridicule he would encounter; but eventually he felt compelled to start reciting the messages.


      The messages received by Muhammad on the mountain from the Quran.  Its central theme is that there is one God, and that everyone must submit to him.  Thus, true religion is called as Islam, which means 'submission' to God, and a person embracing Islam is a Muslim. Muhammad believed that God sends messages to every nation in every age, and he recognized the teachings of both Moses and Jesus as divine. He also believed that the traditional Arabian religion was divinely inspired, but had been corrupted by hypocrisy; so he saw himself as a reformer.

       The primary religious discipline, prescribed by Gabriel, is to pray five times a day; and Gabriel gave Muhammad the words that people should use in prayer.  In addition people should fast during Ramadan, the month that Muhammad spent on the mountain; they should neither eat nor drink during day light hours.  And they should make a pilgrimage as frequently as they can afford; and the main place of pilgrimage is the Grand Mosque in Mecca.

       The moral disciplines are equally simple and rigorous.  People should be as generous to the poor as their means allow.  They should care for their sick neighbors and welcome strangers into their homes.  They never speak harshly, and should readily praise the achievements of others.  They should be faithful and tender in marriage.  They should cherish all living beings as God's creatures.  And they should be indifferent to power and wealth for their own sake, but desire only to do God's will.


       Mecca was the commercial center of the Arabian peninsula.  Caravan arrived each day to sell their cargoes of precious goods.  One of the richest merchants in the city was a widow called Khadija; and she organized caravans to take goods to and from Jerusalem.

       She heard people speak well of the intelligence and honesty of a young man called Muhammad, and she invited him to lead one of her caravans; he accepted.  As the caravan was approaching Jerusalem, Muhammad saw a monk sitting in a cave near the road.  He stopped the caravan, and went to the cave.  The monk was Christian and Muhammad asked him many questions about his faith.  The monk's answers impressed Muhammad.  The monk then said to Muhammad:  'I can see that you are a messenger from God.'

       When he reached Jerusalem, Muhammad sold the good that he had brought from Arabia and purchased other goods.  and when he returned to Mecca, he handed these goods to Khadija, who sold them at twice the price he had paid.  On seeing him again Khadija found herself feeling great love for Muhammad and she asked him to marry her.  He accepted, and his uncle Abu Talib arranged the wedding.

      Muhammad thought deeply about the monk's words, wondering if they might be true; and after the wedding he related them to Khadija.  She then went to a cousin, a Christian who had studied deeply the teachings of Jesus Christ, and asked whether the monk's words might be true.  'I have long expected God to send a messenger to our people,' the cousin said,' and I believe that your husband is that person.'  (Source: Ibn Ishaq).


       For several years Muhammad continued to lead caravan for Khadija, and she had three sons by him, all of whom died in infancy, and four daughters.  But when he reached the age of 40 Muhammad grew weary of travelling to and from Jerusalem, and began to spend much of his time alone.  He frequently walked out of Mecca to remote hills and valleys; and he felt that every stone and tree was saying to him, 'Peace to you, messenger of God.'

       One day, as he was sitting under a tree, he heard a voice.  "Muhammad", the voice said, 'to each nation and to each generation I send a messenger, who speaks my words.  Will you be my messenger to this nation at this time?'  Muhammad know that the voice was God's and without hesitation he replied, "I will."

A depiction of Muhammad receiving his first revelation from the angel Gabriel.

       Some time later Muhammad decided to spend the month of Ramadan on Mount Hira.  When he was half way up, night fell, and he lay down to sleep.  At midnight an angel came, and shook him.  When he awoke the angel said: 'I am Gabriel.'  Then Gabriel unfolded a piece of cloth on which some words were written.  'Read!' Gabriel said.  'What shall I read?'.  Muhammad asked. 'Read the words that are written on this cloth.'  Gabriel said, Muhammad looked at the cloth, and could see the words:  'God created all living beings, and he is full of compassion.  He will write words that you are to remember, and then dictate to others, these words will conveys truths which the people have forgotten.'

      As soon as Muhammad had read these words, Gabriel departed.

19th year depiction titled "Muhammad Preaching" (1840-1850) by Russian Artist Grigory Gagrin.


       At first Muhammad was overjoyed at Gabriel's visit.  But then he reflected on its implications.  He had seen in Mecca several men who had declared themselves to be the messengers of God, and were in a permanent state of ecstasy.  Each one had spoken nonsense - and had been treated by most people with contempt.  "If I return to Mecca,' thought Muhammad ' and say that I am God's messenger, people will treat me with contempt.'  This prospect caused him such distress that he decided to go to the top of the mountain, and hurt himself off.

       He ran upwards, but when he was about the kill himself, he heard a voice from the sky.  'Muhammad,' the voice said, 'you must not betray God.'  He looked up and saw Gabriel, with his feet on either end of the horizon.  Muhammad gazed at him for several minutes.  Then he turned round; and in every direction he saw Gabriel, with his legs astride the horizon.  His heart filled with fear, and he begged God to forgive him.

       As he had intended, Muhammad remained on the mountain for a month.  Gabriel came many times, and each time fresh words were written on his cloth.  Muhammad memorized these words; and he repeated them constantly to himself, so he would not forget a single syllable.

       At the end of the month he went back to Mecca, and wrote down what he had heard.  He recited the words to Khadija, who knew at once that God was the author.  But despite her encouragement, he did not dare recite them to anyone else.  [Source: Ibn Ishaq]

The Muslim profession of faith, the Shahadah, illustrates the Muslim conception of the role of Muhammad: - There is no god except the God and Muhammad is the Messenger of God.


       The following year Muhammad again spent the month of Ramadan on Mount Hira, expecting the angel Gabriel to him again.  For many days and nights the angel did not appear, and Muhammad wondered if God was angry with him for not having recited his message publicly.  Then on the final night of the month, Gabriel came and sat beside Muhammad. 'Do not be anxious, Muhammad,' Gabriel said, 'having once loved you, God will never turn against you.  On the contrary, year by year God will draw you closer to himself, so the future will always be better than the past.  Eventually God will enter your heart, and then you will have the courage to recite his words to the people.'

      For several minutes Gabriel sat in silence.  Then he said: 'Your father died before you were born, and your mother died when you were a small child, did they not?  'Yes,' Muhammad replied.  Your uncle Abu Talib raised you as if you were his own son, did he not?'  Gabriel asked.  'Yes', Muhammad replied.  Your wife provides you with every material comfort, does she not?'  Gabriel asked.  'Yes,' Muhammad replied.   "Remember', said Gabriel, 'that God arranged all these things, out of his love for you.

       For several minutes Gabriel sat in silence   Then he said: 'when you are recognized as God's messenger, do not become proud of your position.  Never be harsh to those weaker than yourself.  And always give thanks to God for his kindness to you.'

       Gabriel now disappeared Muhammad returned to Mecca, but still spoke to no one apart from Khadija about his encounters with Gabriel.  [Source: Ibn Ishaq]


       The following year Muhammad again spent the month of Ramadan on Mount Hira.  The angel Gabriel arrived on the mountain at dawn two days before the end of the month, and demonstrated to Muhammad how to pray.

Cave Hira in the mountain Jabal - al Nour where according to Muslim belief, Muhammad received his first revelation.

       First Gabriel taught Muhammad the words that should be used.  'In the name of God, who is compassionate and merciful.  All praise belongs to God, the lord of all being.  He is compassionate and merciful, and he is our judge.   We worship only you; in you alone we seek refuge.  Guide us along the straight path, the path of those whom you have blessed - not the path of those who have incurred your wrath, not the path of those who have gone astray.  Gabriel said each phrase, and Muhammad repeated it, until Muhammad knew it by heart.

       Then Gabriel told Muhammad that the prayer should be offered five times a day: at dawn, between the time when the sun begins to rise and it has fully risen; at noon, as the sun is beginning to decline; in the evening, when a person's shadow is equal in length to the person's height; at sunset, between the time when the sun starts to set and when it has fully set; and at night when a third of the night has passed.

       Gabriel showed Muhammad the posture for prayer; he had mat on the ground, and knelt down with his hands on the ground.

       For two days and nights Gabriel prayed alongside Muhammad.  Then he disappeared, and Muhammad returned to Mecca.   [Source: Ibn Ishaq] 

The last ayah from the sura An-Najm in the Quran: "So prostrate to Allah and worship (Him). "Muhammad's message of monotheism (one God) challenged the traditional order.


       These are the words that Muhammad recited:

       Your God is one God.  There is no god but him.  He is merciful and compassionate.

       There are many signs of God for men and women who open their eyes to them.  There is the creation of the earth and the sky.  There is the alternation of day and night.  There are the ships sailing the ocean with cargoes that bring pleasure.  There is the gift of sleep, by which God revives weary bodies and minds.  There is the rain that God sends down from the sky, by which he revives the barren earth and nourishes the creatures living on the earth.  And there are the changing winds, which drive the clouds through the atmosphere between earth and sky.

      Religion does not consist in whether you face east or west during worship.  True religion consists in this: trusting God and praying to him; obeying his commandments; sharing your wealth with your relatives, with orphans, and with the poor; caring for the sick; welcoming strangers into your homes; ransoming slaves; keeping your premises; and remaining steadfast in times of diseases and adversity.  By practicing true religion you honor God.

       True religion consists in upholding justice; always telling the truth, even if it puts you in a bad light; showing equal respect to the rich and poor; controlling your emotions; speaking gently, and never using harsh words; and forgiving those who have wronged you.  Remember, God knows all that you think and do. [Source: Quran].


       Devout people have always fasted, as a means of guarding themselves against evil; and you too must fast.  You should fast throughout the month of Ramdan, eating and drinking nothing from dawn and dusk. The month of Ramadan was the time when God revealed his messages to his messenger.  But if you are sick, or on a long journey, you may fast the same number of days later on; God does not want to make you ill or weak through fasting, but desires your health and comfort. Set aside the food that you save during the month of fasting and give it to the poor.  Fasting does you great good - but helping others does you even greater good.

       Devout people have always made pilgrimages, as a means of reminding themselves of the truth, and you too must be pilgrims.  Whatever you live, you should strive to make a pilgrimage each year; so you can meditate on God and his messages.  When you begin the pilgrimage, shave your head; and during the pilgrimage abstain from sexual intercourse, obscene language and quarreling   Provide well for the journey, so that you are not burden of those you pass; but the best provision is devotion to God.  If sickness or any other cause prevents you from making the pilgrimage, then give the fruits of a month's work to the poor.

       Devout people always pray at the times specified for prayer.  They stop whatever they are doing, kneel down, and say the prayer which God himself has taught.  And when they finished praying, they rise up and resume whatever they were doing. (Source: Quran)

The Al-Aqsa Mosque, part of the Al-Haram ash-Sherif Complex in Jerusalem, is believed to be "farthest mosque" to which Muhammad travelled in his night journey.  The al-Haram ash-Sharif is the third holiest place on earth for Muslims.


     If you use your wealth in the service of God and other people, you are like a grain of corn that sprouts seven ears, each of which bears a hundred grains.  God is abundantly generous to those who are generous; he knows all.

       If you use your wealth in the service of God and other people, do not mar your generosity with reproaches and rebukes.  The giver is not superior to the receiver, and so has no right to pass judgement on the receiver.  Do not mar your generosity with pride.  The giver of the size of the gift, and is eager for gratitude and admiration, is no better than a miser.  And do not mar your generosity with resentment   The resentment giver puts a burden of guilt on the receiver, while joyful giver makes the receiver joyful - and thus bestows a double gift.

       A kind of word of encouragement, or a selfless word of praise, or a gentle word of forgiveness, is worth far more than a material gift accompanied by insults.

       Be generous with your wealth and your words from a desire to please god and to please others - then you will like a orchard that yields abundant fruit.  Men and women who give generously with sincere hearts, and ask nothing in return, will be repaid double by God, they will enjoy perfect happiness for all eternity.

     Be wise and shrewd in your generosity, so the receivers enjoy the greatest benefit.  And do not be so generous that you reduce yourself to penury, and thus depend on the generosity of others - as that will cancel all the good you have done.  (Source: Quran).

                Mausoleum Muhammad


      It is God who created human beings from dust and divided them into men and women.  No woman conceives without his knowledge and approval.  No one grows old and dies, except in accordance with his decree.  How can you turn away from him?
Mausoleum Muhammad
       It is God who turns night into day, and day into night.  He kindles the light of dawn; and at dusk he extinguishes the light so that we can rest.  How can you turn away from him?

       It is God who put the stars in the sky at night, to give light and guidance to those who travel.  It is God who makes the moon wax and wane, so that we can count the months.  How can you turn away from him?

       It is God who causes the grain and the fruit stone to germinate.  It is God who sends rain from the sky, causing the grain to swell, the palm tree to yield dates, the vines to yield grapes, and the olive trees to bear olives.  How can you turn away from him?

       It is God who makes the rivers and lakes fresh and sweet, and the sea salty and bitter.  It is God who fills them with fish that you can catch and eat.  How can you turn away from him?

      It is God who told the bees to make their homes in the hives that you build, and to feed on every kind of blossom, so that they provide honey to nourish you and heal you from sickness.  How can you turn away from him?

       No mortal eye can see him, but he created all that you see.  (Source: Quran).

Al-Masjid an-Nabawi (the Mosque of the Prophet) in Medina, Saudi Arabia, with the Green Dome built over Muhammad's tomb in the center.


       God sees all that happens, he hears all that is spoken, and he discern every thought.  If three people talk in secret, he is the fourth.  If people plot some evil deed, not a single detail is hidden from him.  If malice and hatred stir people's heart and inspire their actions, they cannot deceive him into believing that their motives are pure.  So only use words of which God approves; only make plans that accord with his commandments; and act only with the intention of doing good.

       When someone injures you or a member of your family, you may retaliate.  But it is far better to go to that person, ask for an apology, and offer forgiveness.  Then their guilt and grief will be so great that they will mend their ways.  Retaliation is a means of protecting yourself, but forgiveness ensures that no protection is needed.

       When you cause injury, whether deliberately or by accident, go immediately to your victim, and seek forgiveness; offer compensation in a spirit of humility and friendship, and strive to make amends.

      To endure suffering with fortitude, to forgive those who have wronged you, and to put right the wrongs which you have done - these are the marks of a true follower of God.

       To God belongs the earth and all the live on it, the ocean and all that swim in it, and the atmosphere and all that fly through it.  He creates whatever he wishes, and destroys whatever he wishes.  He bestows male offspring as he chooses, and female offspring as he chooses.  God is mighty, and controls all; he is wise, and understands all.  (Source: Quran).


       throughout Arabia people had been waiting for the outcome of Muhammad's conflicts and the religious leaders in Mecca, before making up their minds about Islam.  When they heard of his triumph, they concluded that his claim to God's messenger must be true; and leaders came from every part of Arabia to pledge their allegiance to Muhammad and the divine messages that he had revealed.

       Muhammad ruled in Mecca for two years.  Although all the people were now Muslim, they still had disputes and quarrels, and they asked Muhammad to resolve them.  Then at the age of sixty-two he began to suffer severe aches in his head.  One evening, as he lay on his bed, an angel came to him and said:  'God is giving you a choice.  You may survive into old age, and continue to bear the burden of ruling Arabia or you may die, and enter the realm of eternal peace and happiness immediately.  My task as God's messenger is complete, Muhammad replied, 'and I am weary of ruling.  so let me die now.'

       He called his wife Aisha.  'Would it distress you if you were to die before me, so that I might wrap you in a shroud, pray over you and bury you? he asked her.  she was perplexed by the question, but replied:  'If I were to die before you, then you would quickly find yourself a new wife and forget about me.  But if you were to die before me, then I should remember you and mourn for you until the day of my own death.

       Muhammad embraced her, and said:  'You are a truly good person, whereas I am merely someone who does God's will.  May you live until you are old and be inspiration to many.' (Source: Ibn Ishaq).

The tomb of Muhammad is located in the quarters of his third wife, Aisha. (Al-Masjid an-Nabwi, Medina.)


       Although his head was aching so badly that he could barely think, he went to the Grand Mosque to speak to the people for the last time.

'When I am dead,' Muhammad said, 'do not turn me into an object of worship.
Worship God alone; he will never die.
Give honor to god in all you do, praise god for all you see and hear,
and thank God for everything happens to you.
Remember that God created all living beings from dust, and he has ordained their destinies.
God is one;
God is eternal.
He gives birth to all, but no one gave birth to him.
He has no rivals.'

      With these words Muhammad felt silently.  He walked slowly from the Mosque, with Aisha supporting him.  When he lay on his bed, he said to Aisha: 'My soul is now to leave my body.' Then he lost consciousness.  She held his head in her arms, and a few moments later he died.  (Source: Ibn Ishaq)

The Kaab in Mecca long held a major economic and religious role for the area.  Seventeen months after Muhammad's arrival in Medina, it became the Muslim Quibla, or direction for prayer (salat).  The Kaaba has been rebuilt several times; the present strcuture, built in 1962, is reconstruction of an earlier building dating to 683.


       Muhammad convinced many people in Mecca that he was God's messenger; but the religious leaders were violently opposed to him, seeing him as a threat to their positions.  Muhammad and his fellow Muslims were eventually forced to flee to the city of Medina in northern Arabia, where he won many more followers. He now turned himself into a military leaders, and waged a war against the religious leaders of Mecca that lasted several years; and finally he marched into Mecca unopposed, and became ruler of Arabia.

       He died two years later in 632 CE.  Political and religious leadership now passed to a series of deputies (caliphs); and the Arabs, united by Islam, because one of the most powerful and energetic military forces that the world has seen.  Within a decade of Muhammad's death they had created an empire that controlled most of the Middle East from Palestine to Iran; and this soon extended westwards across north Africa into Spain, and eastwards into the Indian subcontinent.  Guided by the principles of the Quran, and the example of Muhammad, Muslim Political rule was generally benign and just, although often ruthless.  Many in the conquered lands converted to Islam, and those refusing to convert merely had to pay an additional tax.

       The caliphs that ruled from Baghdad, from the eighth to the thirteenth century, also encouraged scholarship and the arts.  They commissioned Christian, Jewish and Greek scholars to translate the great works of philosophy into Arabic and to engage in scientific research.  And they commissioned craftsmen to build mosques sublime beauty.

Source: Excerpts from the book "366 Readings from World Religions" by Robert Van De Weyer.

1 comment:

Ji Yeon said...

Nice post! Thanks for sharing!
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