DUBAI: A television drama about the life of a seventh century Muslim ruler, Omar Ibn al-Khattab, is polarising opinion across the Arab world by challenging a widespread belief that actors should not depict Islam’s central figures.

89051 mainimg Ramadan TV show stirs argument across Arab world

The TV series, currently being aired on MBC, depicts the life of Islam’s second Caliph Omar Ibn Al-Khattab. (MBC)

Conservative clerics denounce the series, which is running during the region’s busiest drama season, the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. Scholars see an undesirable trend in television programming; the foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates has publicly refused to watch it. (more…)

As soon as the month of Ramadan arrives, the routines of a vast majority of Muslims change in a lot of ways. The routines followed by Muslims during this month center around the Seher (Suhoor) and Aftaar times. These routines maximize the opportunity of Muslims to gain Allah’s blessings by increasing the time in which they can worship and pray to the Almighty God.

ramadan 480x800 Routines Most Muslims Follow During Fasting

In this article, a short discussion of the common routine followed by Muslims is presented, along with the description of the various ways in which this routine helps a Muslim in gaining physical fitness and mental cleanliness. The routines followed by Muslims all over the world vary in different regions, because the physical requirements of fasting and culture are different for different places. The fundamental routine, however, is quite similar, and revolves around the Seher and Aftaar timings.

Muslims begin their day by getting up atSeher (Suhoor). This is the time before dawn and Muslims get up around this time in order to take in meals and water to fulfill the bodily requirements for the fast of the upcoming day. The women generally get up before men because they have to handle all the cooking responsibilities. In some households, food for seher is prepared in the night to prevent the risk of skipping seheri (seher meal) the next morning due to late awakening. The Seheri food is mostly simple breakfast food supplemented with servings of water/juices to make up for the liquid intake of the rest of the day. The kind of meal served in Seheri differs in different cultures, but it is generally simple food comprising of bread, eggs and fruits.

The time for Seher gets over with the call (azaan) of Fajr, after which Muslims offer the Fajr prayer. From Fajr time to early morning, Muslims enjoy free time with no religious or worldly obligation. Some Muslims resume their sleep during this time while others use it to complete their work, projects or assignments. However, the majority of Muslims use this time to engage in worship and in reading the Holy Quran.

After this time, Muslims go to their works and begin their business/office activity as usual. Some Muslims begin their work a bit later in the morning during Ramadan to make up for the sleep lost during Seher. They continue their work activity till evening, taking two breaks for prayers for Zuhr and Asar prayer. Most Muslims like to offer these prayers in a congregation during Ramadan.

In the evening, Muslims return back to their homes as Aftaar time approaches. This is the time for feast for Muslims, as they eat ravenously to make up for the lack of food during the fast. This is not a good approach because taking such high amounts of food negates the very essence of fasting, i.e. to inculcate self-restraint in Muslims.

After this, Muslims rest for a while and then go off for Isha prayer after which they offer Tarawih prayers.

This is the routine commonly followed by most Muslims during the holy month of Ramadan.

There is no denying to the importance of fasting and Ramadan in Islam. Fasting is an obligatory worship for all Muslims adults, and must be carried out. The importance of fasting can be outlined by the fact that it forms a pillar of Islam.

The Holy Quran and Ahadith have emphasized the great importance of fasting for a believer, and in one of the Ahadith, it is reported that the Messenger of Allah, Muhammad (S.A.W) said that fasting is for Allah and its reward will be set by Allah Almighty Himself.

fasting1 Qaza and Kaffara Matters for Fast

The significance of the month of Ramadan is also enormous. Ramadan is set apart from the rest of lunar calendar as a month of purity and piety, where material desires are pushed back and a desire to attain greater inner purity through faith is expressed. The three ten day periods of Ramadan each carry its own significance. Blessings, mercy and forgiveness define the three 10 day periods in Ramadan. The significance of Ramadan can be understood from the fact that Allah chose this month to complete the revelation of Holy Quran.

In view of these facts, it is not surprising that Muslims are never willing to lose any fast. The punishment of skipping or breaking a fast is great, and is prescribed by the Shariat (Islamic law). However, Islam allows Muslims to skip fasts under certain permitted conditions, or break the fast before time if a genuine need arises. In such a case, the person is due to keep a ‘Qaza’ fast after the end of Ramadan and before the next Ramadan.

If the person breaks the fast due to a failure to control his material desires, he is due to pay a ‘kaffara’ (punishment). In this article, a description of the Qaza and Kaffara matters is given to guide Muslims about the conditions in which both of them applicable and the prescribed ways in which both the Qaza and Kaffara should be offered by Muslims.

Qaza Matters: Muslims are allowed to skip a fast under special circumstances. Women who are feeding a baby, or are pregnant and unable to fast or undergoing similar feminine complications may skip the fast. Similarly, old men and women who are too weak and are unable to fast are also allowed to skip the fast. Adults who are very ill and for whom their physicians fear that fasting and lack of water may exacerbate their position,may also skip the fast.

People who undergo the fast but are unable to complete it due to sudden medical complications (e.g. unpredicted illness) may break their fast before Maghrib. All these groups of people are only required to offer a Qaza fast later in the year after the end of Ramadan.

Kaffara Matters: People who intentionally break their fast as a result of failure to control their instincts for food or sexual pleasure are required to offer Kaffara for their broken fast. This Kaffara can be offered by fasting for 60 continuous days or by feeding 60 poor people twice a day (or giving them equivalent cash for eating twice a day). If any one day from this chain of 60 days is skipped, the whole chain has to be restarted from the scratch.

RAMALLAH, Occupied West Bank: Alongside hundreds of millions of Muslims observing the sunrise-to-sundown fast of Ramadan, a minority in the community goes underground each year during the holy month, sneaking sandwiches and cigarettes when no one is looking.

They include Muslims ambivalent about their faith or outright atheists, nicotine addicts too hooked to quit for 15 hours straight or those who simply don’t want to deal with a day of being hungry.

ramadan rule breaker In Ramadan, rule breakers pushed underground

Palestinian women wait to cross through an Israeli checkpoint on their way to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, on the third Friday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan near Ramallah, West Bank, Friday, Aug. 3, 2012. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

The Ramadan dodgers indulge in secret – mostly to avoid offending those who are fasting or to avoid embarrassment. Community pressure is powerful. Many say they don’t break the rules openly because they fear the disapproval of wives, neighbors and colleagues, or want to set a good example for their children.

“I tried to fast, but it’s pointless. I need to smoke,” said Ahmed, a 28-year-old electrician, puffing on a cigarette at midday in the privacy of a windowless office in an industrial park in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

He said he didn’t want his fiancee or his mother to know he wasn’t fasting. “I’m saving myself a headache,” he said, laughing.

In some places, authorities enforce adherence.

Saudi Arabia threatens to expel even non-Muslim expatriates seen violating Ramadan. In Muslim-majority Malaysia, officials randomly inspect restaurants and parks and nab hundreds of Muslims every year among those eating or drinking. Usually it means a fine amounting to around $300, but repeat offenders in some states can get a year in prison.

Still, the potential chiding from friends and family generally is reason enough to lay low.

In Malaysia’s capital Kuala Lumpur, marketing executive Amri said he eats in his car while heading to or from work and hides a water bottle in a work bag for secret sips at the office. He’s an atheist but in the eyes of the law and society, he’s Muslim.

“I’m sure some of my colleagues also don’t always fast, but it’s something that nobody wants to admit. Half of it is the fear of being caught by (the authorities), half of it is the fear that people will look at you negatively,” he said.

Ahmed, Amri and others who acknowledged violating Ramadan spoke with The Associated Press on condition that their full names not be used, another sign of the taboo’s power.

During Ramadan, healthy Muslims must abstain from food, drink and cigarettes during daylight hours. The elderly, the very young, the sick as well as menstruating and nursing women are not required to fast.

Ramadan is typically a joyous time. Families gather for meals at night and sit together to watch the season’s best soap operas. People pray more. There’s a spirit of warmth, a break from routine. For the observant, fasting is a reminder of the deprivations of the poor. It also brings a sense of community, so even many who don’t consider themselves religious or slide on daily prayers throughout the year join in.

But it’s not for everyone.

“I don’t believe in fasting,” said a 59-year-old Palestinian-American supermarket owner from Los Angeles. Raised near Jerusalem in a devout Muslim family, he let go of his faith after moving to the U.S. decades ago.

On a recent trip back, he was reprimanded by his more devout son, 32-year-old Basil, when he unthinkingly ate cake in their car while in a traffic jam of Muslim fasters near Ramallah.

“Basil smacks my hand. He says, Dad, Dad, what are you doing? You can’t do that! Look at the people looking at us!” he recalled.

“I had something in my mouth. I stopped chewing it out of fear. People were looking at me,” he said.

Chain-smoking Palestinian truck driver, Raed, 32, keeps his non-fasting secret from his four children, having his morning coffee and cigarette while they are sleeping.

At the same time, he pays his sons, ages 6 and 11, a dollar for every day they fast.

“I want them to be better than me,” he said, sipping thick black Turkish coffee in an industrial district near Ramallah.

Raed said he doesn’t fast because his job is too difficult.

“That’s empty talk,” countered his wife Nahla, 29. “It’s the cigarettes that are killing him.”

Ramadan violators are expected to pray for forgiveness, fast to make up for lost days and give charity in recompense.

Religious observance in general has increased dramatically since the 1970s in the Arab world and other parts of the Muslim world, as political Islam rose to prominence and secular nationalist and leftist ideologies faded from the scene.

The rise of Islamic political parties in the region in the wake of last year’s Arab Spring protests is likely to reinforce this trend, said Shadi Hamid of the Brookings Doha Center, a think tank.

The intensity of Ramadan coercion varies.

Most widespread is the closing of restaurants during daylight hours. Alcohol, which is forbidden in Islam no matter what month it is, often disappears during the holy month.

In Ramallah, where devout and secular live side-by-side, some cafes leave their doors coyly half open, a sign that it’s business as usual. One restaurant offers free soup for Muslims wishing to break their fast after sundown. Other customers can order booze. Police allow restaurants to operate normally in areas with a strong Christian minority and foreigners, such as biblical Bethlehem.

Almost all bars in Egypt shut down or stop serving booze. City bylaws in Jakarta, capital of world’s most populous Muslim country, Indonesia, prohibit nightclubs, bars and massage parlors from operating.

In contrast, restaurants serving alcohol operate normally in Lebanon, with its large Christian minority.

And then there are the places where authorities take action.

In West Bank areas under the Palestinian self-rule government, police have detained 10 people for violating the fast in public, said police spokesman Mansour Khazamiyeh. Violators are generally jailed until Ramadan’s end. It’s also an offense in the Gaza Strip, ruled by Palestinian Islamic group Hamas, but police spokesman Ayman Batniji said nobody has been arrested yet.

Egyptian Islamic clerics issued a religious ruling demanding that the government ban public eating in Ramadan, even for the 10 percent Christian minority. Similar requests were made in the past before the Muslim Brotherhood’s rise to power in Egypt this year, but so far the Arab world’s most populous country doesn’t enforce the fast.

Anyway, the biggest punishment for some is the guilt.

Abdul-Latif, a 45-year-old Afghan shopkeeper in Kabul, said he and his buddies sneaked some cigarettes – but he didn’t feel good about it.

“It would be such a shame if my family knew,” he said. “It’s also shameful for me. When it becomes time to eat at night, everyone else enjoys it more than me. I know about my shame.”

(The Daily Star :: Lebanon News ::

The holy month of Ramadan and the rituals associated with this month are usually emphasized from the perspective of the mental purity they bring about. It is an undeniable fact that Ramadan and fasting serve the purpose of cleansing the heart of Muslims from all worldly desires, which keep them from following a path of selflessness and spirituality. The essence of Ramadan lies in the fact that it brings Muslims closer to the Almighty, by inculcating the virtues of piety in them. The Holy Quran states that the purpose of fasting is to make the Muslims learn self-restraint:

“O you who believe! Observing al-sawm (the fasting) is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may learn self-restraint”.(Qur’an al-Baqarah 2:183)


This self-restraint is the key to piety and mental purity. As soon as man discovers a way to control his inner desires, he rises above his material needs and becomes a person with a pure mind, always eager to help others, even if this help comes at the cost of sacrificing some personal interest. This selflessness and humility forms the essence of all rituals and worships in Islam, and fasting is an ideal way to attain these virtues.

People interested in maintaining healthy diets and exercising will also notice another point in the aforementioned details. The concept of self-restraint lies at the heart of most diet plans and weight loss schedules. Workouts and exercise plans require the same ‘self-restraint’ principle. Therefore, one may identify that Ramadan not only brings blessings for mental purity, but also brings a complete code for physical fitness.

It is unfortunate that most Muslims miss out on taking full advantage of the physical fitness code of Ramadan. This is because most Muslims never fully identify the essence of Ramadan i.e. self-restraint. In fact, the most glaring violations of self-restraint, sadly, occur in this month. Seher and Aftaar are considered as occasions for feast and Muslims eat ravenously at these occasions. In this article, a brief overview of a physical fitness plan is presented, which can be adopted by Muslims who choose to explore and fulfill the real essence of fasting and Ramadan.

Meal plan:

Seher time:  Take 3 servings of water (2-3 full glasses), 2-3 eggs with bread and a few pieces of fruits.

You may replace the egg-bread combination with any other combination having a similar calorie value.

Aftaar time: Keep track of your hunger. Most people do not keep track of exactly how hungry they are until they eat too much. Leave a part of your hunger unfulfilled.

Exercise plan:

Do not change your walking/jogging routine.

It is better to work out an hour or two before Aftaar. This helps to absorb the nutrients you later take in Aftaari, and the thirst after workout is bearable because aftaar is only an hour away from workout.

Keeping in view all these things, man can attain both physical fitness and mental purity from Ramadan.

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