holds special significance for Indian Muslims (Comment)
By Danish Ahmad Khan
The holy month of Ramadan (or Ramzan as it is known in this
region) holds a special significance for the people of the
Indian subcontinent. It is when the faithful not only show
piety and compassion but try to send across a strong message
of communal harmony.
Muslims use the lunar, Hijri, calendar in their reckoning
of time where the day starts just after nightfall and ends
at the succeeding nightfall. According to the traditions of
Prophet Muhammad, it is mandatory that the sighting of the
new moon takes place before the fasting is started. If that
does not happen on the expected date, the fast should begin
the following day.
During Prophet Muhammad's time when there was confusion about
starting of Ramadan, the Prophet's advice was to start fasting
after marking the Ramadan crescent moon and to stop fasting
after marking the Shawwal (the ensuing month) crescent moon.
Muslims in the subcontinent, particularly India, still follow
the rules of the local muftis, who insist on actual sighting
of the moon by two reliable Muslims. They do not rely on the
announcements made by countries like Saudi Arabia though at
times muftis may accept the ruling of Pakistan's Hilal Committee
(Crescent Sighting Committee).
As such, there is a Hilal Committee in every city in India
headed by a mufti or imam of the grand mosque in the city.
Besides, there is a central moon sighting committee in New
Delhi which decides and announces the date after ascertaining
the reliability of people who claim to have sighted the moon.
The sighting of the new moon is a social event in itself.
It is a joyous moment for every Muslim. From the evening,
hordes of children and elders can be seen on their rooftops,
trying to catch a glimpse of the new crescent. The moment
the new moon is sighted, people raise their hands in thanksgiving
to the Almighty. The enthusiasm is such that it is welcomed
by bursting of crackers. Once the sighting is confirmed, sirens
fitted on mosques wail.
On occasions there had been conflicts between muftis over
the sighting of the moon. Thus, in the same region, there
have been reports of fast and celebration of Eid on different
dates. Normally muftis try to arrive at a consensus to avoid
conflict, which the mass of Muslims resent.
Arabs living here in India follow the Saudi announcement of
the beginning of Ramadan and Eid celebration. Some in Kerala
also observe fasting like the Arabs do.
In Delhi, Arabs have their own mosque -- in Defence Colony.
Besides, a mosque is located in the Sudanese embassy where
Eid is celebrated usually one or two days before Indian Muslims
With the sighting of the new moon, the faithful observe Tarawih
prayers just after the Isha (night) prayers. These are normally
20 rak'as, though some observe only eight. The Huffaz (those
who memorise the Holy Quran) take this opportunity to recite
the Quran during Tarawih. The Quran is usually completed in
around 25 days. However, some Huffaz complete it in three,
five, 10 or 15 days.
Tarawih gives a golden opportunity to the Huffaz to revise
what they memorize of the Holy Quran. On the concluding day
of the Tarawih prayer, called Khatm, sweets are distributed
and Huffaz are honoured and bestowed with gifts and rewards.
The occasion provides a grand spectacle that day when children
can be seen queuing for receiving sweets.
These days some Arab Huffaz, especially from Egypt, visit
Indian cities and people flock to hear their recitation of
The fasting begins with sihri (suhur), which is a light breakfast
shortly before dawn. Hence, the faithful are regularly intimated
about the timings of sihri. Once drum beaters used to do rounds
of the locality and wake up people for sihri. Now traditional
methods are giving way to modern ones.
During Ramadan, in Muslim localities, prices of eatables like
fruits and dry fruits and other essentials soar due to the
increasing demand. Dates imported from Saudi Arabia, Iraq
and Iran are in great demand since the faithful prefer to
break their fast by eating a couple of dates following the
tradition of Prophet Muhammad.
During this pious month, nightlife comes alive in Delhi's
Muslim areas, including the walled city and particularly around
the famed Jama Masjid, a huge 17th century mosque.
There is an air of festivity. There is plenty on sale: plastic
wares, glass bangles, aluminum paandaans (betel cases), colorful
arrays of skull caps and sensuous ittars (non-alcoholic perfumes).
The aroma of seekh kababs, thick pudding - all invite the
faithful to break their fast with the sunset adhan (call for
The month of Ramadan also promotes communal bonds. It is an
occasion for politicians to organise lavish Iftar parties.
This is when politicians of all hues send out a message that
the people of India are one.
(Danish Ahmed Khan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Indo-Asian News Service