COTABATO CITY: Millions of Muslims all over the world, including Muslim Filipinos, begin their 30-day fasting in the month of Ramadan today.
In an exclusive interview with The Manila Times, Aleem Said Ahmad Basher, chairman of the Imam Council of the Philippines, said he is happy to note that many Muslims from the different countries and practically all over the world have agreed to start their fasting simultaneously beginning Thursday.
The agreement came despite the Moon Sighting Committee tasked to watch out for the crescent moon of the month of Ramadan failing to see it.
Aleem Basher said members of the committee in Metro Manila had posted themselves in the vicinity of SM Mall of Asia but had no luck with the New Moon.
Abu Huraira Udasan, grand mufti based in Cotabato City, said “no one” in the country has seen the hilal or new moon on Tuesday, May 15.
Hence, the Darul Iftah of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) that is composed of Ulama or Muslim clerics declared Thursday as the official start of the holy month of Ramadan.
The failure of the Moon Sighting Committee to see the crescent moon of Ramadan can be best explained by what a known Arab scholar said in his observation.
As narrated by Ibn Umar from the book of Sahih Al- Bukhari: “When you see the crescent [of the month of Ramadan], start observing Saum [fast], and when you see the crescent [of the month of Shawwal], stop observing Saum; and if the sky is overcast [and you can’t see it], then regard the crescent [month]of Ramadan [as of 30 days].”
Aleem Basher, one of the few Filipino Islamic scholars who graduated from the Al Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt, said Saum (fasting) is obligatory upon the physically and mentally fit Muslim individual.
He explained that when a person is observing his fasting, he is forbidden to eat and drink before dawn to sunset. He is also prohibited from smoking cigarettes, must avoid sexual intercourse with his wife and should not behave foolishly.
And, Aleem Basher said, if somebody fights with him or abuses him, he should say to him twice, “I am observing Saum [fast].
Fasting is therefore one of the five pillars of Islam required for every Muslim to perform every time the holy month of Ramadan comes.
The Ramadan fast, in which food and even water is prohibited, falls on especially long summer days this year for Muslims in the Northern Hemisphere.
For Muslims who live in regions where Islam is not the dominant religion, challenging fasts are believed to come with greater blessings.
Saudi Arabia and other Muslim nations, like Indonesia, declared Ramadan would not begin Wednesday based on a moon-sighting methodology.
That means the month of dawn-to-dusk fasting should therefore begin on Thursday.
Aleem Basher also explained that fasting is intended to bring the faithful closer to God and remind them of those less fortunate.
It is also a chance for someone addicted to caffeine and cigarettes to refrain for one month from engaging in these addictions.
During the day, Aleem Basher said, Muslims must abstain from eating, drinking, sex, gossip and cursing and are encouraged to focus on meditative acts like prayer, reading the Qur’an and charity.
But, he added, there are exceptions where one is not obliged to fast.
They are the children; the elderly; the sick; women who are pregnant, nursing or menstruating; and people who are traveling.
Fasting during Ramadan is one of the five obligatory pillars of Islam, along with the Muslim declaration of faith, daily prayer, annual charity and performing the hajj pilgrimage in Mecca.
Many donate their annual charity, known as “zakat,” during Ramadan.
In many Middle Eastern countries, the wealthy help distribute free meals for the poor, with mosques and volunteers passing out juice and food to pedestrians and anyone, Muslim or non-Muslim, in need of the aid or simply breaking their fast.
Muslims typically break their fast as the Prophet Muhammad did some 1,400 years ago, by eating sweet dates and drinking water, followed by a sunset prayer, Aleem Basher said.
Meanwhile, Datu Yusoph Mama, the Masirikampo sa Marawi (traditional royal ruler of Marawi) said, “The good people of Marawi have been through unimaginable challenges and trials these past many months as a Muslim community, and we are currently at the stage of starting steady recuperations from the disasters wrought by the war [Marawi siege] thanks in great part to noble-hearted people, civic organizations and the decisive leadership of the Philippine government.”
“In spite of that, we courageously welcome and hope for this Islamic month [of Ramadhan]to be an opportunity for the Maranaos and the people of Muslim Mindanao to genuinely reflect on what it really means how to be steadfast despite the hardships in life, how to be productive members of society and most importantly how to remain good and faithful Mohmeens [Believers],” Datu Mama added.
“This month of fasting will be doubly hard for many of us but the rewards for every family and individual that perseveres will be bountiful for their faith in the Merciful Allah, Subhanahu Wa Taala [SWT],” he said.
Muslims celebrate the end of Ramadan with a three-day holiday called Eid’l Fitr.