25 July 2014 by Riefkah Adams

​Ramadan in the Cape

Muslims across South Africa are preparing to celebrate Eid ul-Fitr, heralding the end of a month of fasting. On Sunday night, thousands of Muslims will be at Three Anchor Bay in Cape Town to sight the new moon, signalling the end of the fast.

Women gather to recite from the Qur'an. Image courtesy of En shahdi

Fasting is an essential part of Islam. One of the pillars of Islam, it entails the combination of spiritual, physical, emotional and mental abstinence and obedience – one refrains from food and drinks, smoking and intercourse from before the break of dawn until sunset. Ramadan occurs annually in the ninth month of the Islamic year.

Ramadan is compulsory for every Muslim who is capable and fit to perform this duty. One eats a staple breakfast at suhoor (pre-dawn), and breaks fast with either a date or water, which is considered pure, clean and filled with protein, followed by normal meals, mixed with traditional savouries, soup and cakes.

Muslims break their fast with a date and a glass of water. Image courtesy of Waleed Alzuhair

During this auspicious month, the mind, body and soul are tested so that you learn to practise self-discipline throughout the rest of the year. You should do more good, eat less and learn to give more.

The Qur’an (Muslim holy book) was revealed on the Night of Power (night of divine decree)/Laylatul Qadr in this month (Ramadan). This occurs in the last 10 days of Ramadan, on an odd-numbered night.

Ramadan consists of fasting for 29 or 30 days, depending on the sighting of the new moon with the naked eye. Ramadan then ends, and it is Eid ul-Fitr, a celebration! A banquet is held while Muslims give what they are able to give to the poor, hand out presents to their family and wear their best clothes.

Significance of Islamic fasting:

  • Helps understand the principle of genuine love, because when man fasts he does so out of love for God, and one who loves God truly is one who knows what love is
  • Provides man with a sense of hope, faith and optimism, because when he fasts he is hoping to please God and seeking his grace
  • It is a successful lesson in moderation and willpower
  • Teaches man the virtue of effective devotion and closeness to God, because when man fasts, he does so for the sake of God and God alone
  • It ensures discipline and has extreme health benefits
  • It shows that man is versatile in the ability to adapt
  • It helps to bring out the spirit of belonging, harmony and fellowship among everyone

During the month of Ramadan, one should be humble, master the art of patience, make meals as light as possible, maximise in prayer, increase in recitation of the Qur’an, expand humanitarian services, and be cautious of the tongue, for nothing good can come from being disrespectful.

When the moon is sighted, the Nakhlistan organisation starts preparing hundreds of pots of food to feed up to 65 000 people for charity. Image courtesy of Ben Oswest

On the 29th or 30th day of the month, traditionally (in the Cape) members of the public make their way down to Three Anchor Bay, Cape Town to sight the moon and determine if the next day is Eid ul-Fitr, or the last day of fasting. Families join in this festivity with prayer mats and picnic baskets in hand. They wait until the sun sets, break their fast, and pray.

Once settled, the public will try to spot the moon. The new moon will need to be about 14 hours old in order to see it, but atmospheric conditions are one of the many factors that can affect it.

This traditional event is shared with thousands of Muslims around the Cape.

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