An Islamic man praying by a mosque, during Ramadan, the Amazing Festival of Joy!
Prayers are vital during Ramadan, the Amazing Festival of Joy!

Following the birth of each human being, the child’s parents give him a religious faith. Later on, the child follows the footsteps of their parents, to perform well on their religious journey. Of course, the family members, relations, societal background, education, and several more aspects, impact the religious journey of an individual. However, going beyond, festivals of each faith create greater opportunities with regard. Ramadan is, among all festivals, a well-known and loved festival by most people and Muslims in particular. And yes, there is no difference with Muslims in Sri Lanka as well. As same as other Muslims who celebrate it grandly and joyfully, Sri Lankan Muslims also celebrate Ramadan with great enthusiasm. And the reason is sure to surprise you. Let’s keep exploring!

What is Ramadan?

Ramadan which is also famous as ‘Eid Ul Fitr’, is the ‘festival of breaking the fast’. Accordingly, Muslims around the world, as well as in Sri Lanka celebrate this festival putting the Islamic holy month of fasting to an end. Thus, Ramadan happens to be a month of fasting, prayer, remembrance of god and culture. Hence, Ramadan is a celebration that brings out a deeper connection between God and the believers. Moreover, it is a feeling of emotional joy and religious zeal, making it one of the holiest months for Muslims in Sri Lanka.

Muslims recognise the ninth month of the Islamic calendar as a month-long, dawn to sunset fasting period. Since the date of Eid depends on the sighting of the moon, the exact date of celebration can vary across the world.

When is Ramadan?

Ramadan falls on the same day each year according to the Islamic calendar. Yet, the date on the Gregorian calendar varies from year to year. The reason behind this variation is that the Gregorian calendar is a solar calendar and the Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar. Seemingly, Ramadan moves about 11 to 12 days per year in the Gregorian calendar. Therefore, Ramadan dates of a calendar show that Ramadan begins 11 to 12 days earlier than the previous year.

How is Ramadan Celebrated?

Ramadan celebrations vary slightly from country to country owing to culture, and traditions that each of those countries hold. However, Ramadan is generally a period of intense worship, reading the Qur’an, purifying ones’ actions, giving away charity, and doing good deeds.

Ramadan in Sri Lanka!

Muslims believe that the gates of Paradise are opened, and the gates of hell are locked, when Ramadan arrives. Hence, even the Muslims in Sri Lanka always follow the fast and celebrate the festival unfailingly.

Since the crescent moon often appears around one day after the new moon, Muslims can usually estimate the beginning of Ramadan, but many prefer to validate Ramadan’s opening through a direct visual confirmation of the crescent. With the sighting of the crescent, Sri Lankan Muslims begin the month of Ramadan.

Muslims observe the holy month of Ramadan by abstaining during the day from all food and drinks, from smoking, even from cursing and gossiping. Although a lesser population of Muslims live in Sri Lanka, Ramadan is well known and highly celebrated within the country. Several traditions are practised in Sri Lanka along with the religious convictions. It’s a time of family togetherness, religious devotion and a lesson in self-sacrifice that teaches even the richest person what’s it like to hungry. 

Fasting in Sri Lanka

Each day, before dawn, Muslims observe a pre-fast meal called the ‘suhoor’. In a typical Sri Lankan Muslim household, people wake up early before dawn at around three or four in the morning and eventually, they get themselves a meal before the fast begins. Besides, most the Sri Lankan Muslims love to enjoy rice and curry before they begin their fast. Moreover, Muslims recite a special prayer, signifying that they have begun their fast. Right after the suhur, Muslims engage in their prayer, which is ‘Fajr’. While the men head to the mosque women pray at home. Most Muslims start their day after a short nap and engage in their daily routine.

Furthermore, females tend to be freer than the usual days as they don’t have to prepare meals for the day. Some people recite the ‘Quran’, which is the Muslims holy book. Meanwhile, women also do some sewing work, cleaning, etc. After a much relaxed day, women get busy making the evening meal for breaking fast.

Apart from that, Ramadan is a time of fun and relaxation for young girls and boys, where they play indoor games like Carom throughout the day, avoiding physically tiring sports. Men and working women return home in the evening and gather around a table full of Ramadan special food and wait for the evening prayer call, known as ‘Maghreb’ to break-fast. This is famous as ‘Iftaar’.

Purpose of Fasting

Ramadan, ‘Sawm’ in Arabic, simply means fast. Hence, the bond that Ramadan has with fasting require no elaborations!

However, as you might already know, the month of Ramadan is a time when Muslims keep a dawn-to-dusk fast each day to strengthen their spiritual devotions and as a sign of loyalty to their god ‘Allah’. It is a time to thank him for the material and spiritual blessings. Moreover, this fasting period is a time to pray for the pardon of past wrongdoings. Besides, the fasting period often helps Muslims to reflect on the spiritual aspects, instead of just physical aspects of their lives, establishing a much closer connection between the believer and his Lord.

Moreover, fasting is a religious duty of Muslims, specified in the holy book of Quran. It says that fasting purifies the body and strengthens an individual’s faith. Further, fasting is highlighted as a way to feel hunger and cultivate empathy for the less fortunate. Also, there is a belief that it is an opportunity to learn to be grateful and appreciative of all the God’s rewards.

Fasting Vs Health Benefits

Besides all the above facts, another reason for fasting is the health benefits it holds. Fasting is highly beneficial to health and it provides a break in the cycle of rigid habits or over consumption. Few experts have scientifically proven, that reducing the consumption of food during the day can help to reduce health issues such as high cholesterol, heart disease and obesity, and improve mental health and well-being.

Furthermore, it improves sleep. By not consuming any food, our body can concentrate on removing toxins, as we give the digestive system a rest. Fasting allows the gut to cleanse and strengthens its lining. It can also stimulate a process called autophagy, which is where cells, self-cleanse and removes damaged and dangerous particles. Fasting can allow the brain to release BDNF which is a neurotrophic factor derived from the brain, and it has been shown to protect brain cells and could minimize anxiety and depression, as well as the risk of developing dementia. 

Breaking the Fast!

Often a break-fast table would consist of dates, porridge, eggs, fruits and savoury dishes along with a beverage. Tradition says that a fast should end with dates and water. However, breaking fast is indeed a special occasion. Therefore, Muslims prepare special snacks like samosa, pakora and the highlight rice dish porridge, which is famous as ‘Kanji’. Mostly, Sri Lankan mosques make and distribute porridge to the neighbouring households. 

After breaking fast Muslims engage in everyday prayers and some Ramadan special prayers. Mosques in Sri Lanka organize special segregated areas for women during Ramadan. Hence, both men and women can take part in special Ramadan’ Taraweeh’ prayers. As another important part of Ramadan, charity comes on stage. People who are well to do with money give away charity, to the less privileged by distributing money or material goods such as rice, flour, dates etc. Besides, the recommendation is to give 2-3 kilograms of one’s regular ration or equivalent cash to the poor during this period.

During Ramadan, the spiritual benefits of fasting, are believed to be multiplied. Muslims, therefore, refrain not only from food and drink, but also from tobacco and alcohol, sexual intercourse, and immoral actions. Accordingly, they tend to devote themselves instead to prayer and Quranic recitation, charity and good deeds. Likewise, Muslims fast for 30 consecutive days engaging in charity and prayers. 

More Interesting Facts about Ramadan!

By now, you clearly know that Ramadan is a month of the spiritual discipline of the Sri Lankan Muslims. Besides, there are several beliefs and traditions coupled with this wonderful celebration. Some of them are as follows!

The Text of the Quran was Revealed to the Prophet Muhammad during Ramadan

As per the beliefs, the reveal of the text of the Quran to the prophet Muhammad took place in the month of Ramadan. Moreover, ‘Laylat al-Qadr’ happens to be the year’s holiest night. That is because of the assumption that the revelation of the Quran took place during the last ten days of Ramadan, on an odd-numbered night.

Ramadan is a Season of Values

Also, Muslims consider Ramadan as a time of spiritual observation, self-improvement, and increased devotion and worship. Thus, Muslims try to take more effort to follow Islamic teachings deeply during this season. Sri Lankan Muslims believe that Ramadan teaches them to exercise self-discipline, self-control, sacrifice, and compassion for others who are less fortunate, fostering kindness and compulsory charitable acts. 

Fasting during Ramadan is not a Must!

Of course, there are exceptions with regard to fasting. Muslims who travel, who are on menstruation, who are suffering from a serious illness, who are pregnant and breastfeeding mothers can skip the fast during Ramadan. Even though several Muslims with medical problems, focus on fasting to fulfil their spiritual needs, it is not advised by hadith. Those who are unable to fast have the freedom to make up the missing days later.

Welcoming Eid Festival

Eid in Sri Lanka is a festival with a distinctive flavour as part of the vibrant fusion of local culture. Preparations for the festival start days before. It is with sweet aromas of pastries filled with stuffings such as dates, nuts, cupcakes, casseroled fruits, golden syrup dumplings, and many more coming from homes that are prepared, to welcome the festival. Women decorate their hands and feet with beautiful henna designs.

With the heading of the Ramadan festival, Sri Lankan Muslims go clothe hunting and eid related shopping. Muslims buy new clothes and they even gift them to the family to wear on the special day. Stores display eid particular products with special deals to draw Muslim buyers.

Moreover, during the month of Ramadan, Muslims and non-Muslims in Sri Lanka can find a variety of choices when it comes to Suhoor and Iftar meals. All the island’s leading hotels and restaurants spread out a sumptuous meal in Sri Lanka. Hence, many people come to enjoy the Eid special dishes in hotels.

Eid Ul Fitr celebrations in Sri Lanka

In Arabic, Eid means ‘festival’ or ‘celebration’, and the festival following Ramadan is ‘Eid-ul-Fitr’.  Muslims around the world prepare to celebrate Eid-ul-Fitr, as the Islamic holy month of Ramadan comes to an end. Furthermore, it is a celebration of the spiritual bounties earned in the past month and a celebration of faith, brotherhood and thanksgiving.

The holiday of Eid ul-Fitr, marks the end of Ramadan and the beginning of the next lunar month Shawwal which is the tenth month of the Islamic calendar. This is announced after the sighting of the crescent, new moon or after the end of thirty days of fasting unless, it is possible to see the moon.

Generally, Local religious authorities decide the exact day to celebrate Eid-ul-Fitr based on their sighting of the new moon at the end of the month of Ramadan. For this reason, the date may differ depending on the venue, but a few of the Sri Lankan Muslims celebrate the Eid festival on the same day as Saudi Arabia as most countries do and a few celebrate, after sighting the moon in Sri Lanka.

Commencement of Celebrations in the Dawn

From the moment, the sighting of the new moon is confirmed, the sound of Takbir, a chant glorifying God, echoes in the homes of Muslims. Muslims rise early for their daily dawn prayer on the day of Eid and then have a cleansing bath. Furthermore, they lead to the mosque for special Eid prayers, dressed in their best clothing. A lively scene in the early morning sunlight is created by men’s bright caps and women’s scarves with vibrant beautiful attires. On this day, Sri Lankan Muslims organise a large feastwith varieties of lavish and Ramadan special dishes served at households.

Warm Wishes for Eid-ul-Fitr

A significant part of the Eid-ul-Fitr celebrations is to give neighbours warm wishes and to welcome them for a meal. Moreover, “Eid Mubarak”, which is an Arabic word for ‘blessed festival’, is a term popular among Muslims as a greeting on this special day. As a reply to Eid Mubarak, Muslims use the term “Khair Mubarak” which wishes kindness to the person who wished them. Afterwards, they visit their extended families. They consider it as a priority on that day. The celebrations and visits also continue during the following week, with each house having a table with guest goodies.

Decorations and Family Gatherings

Muslims decorate their houses and exchange presents with family and friends. Moreover, a delicious meal with family and friends is another highlight of the day. Thus, Ramadan happens to be a celebration where the Muslim cultural food items mainly comes on stage. The main dish of eid is traditionally Biryani, a flavourful rice dish cooked in a spiced meat broth. They serve it with an enjoyable mix of fried chicken, meat, chutneys, gravies and salads. And as for dessert, is the wonderful Watalappan which is a moist and syrup pudding of jaggery and coconut. Muslims usually serve this meal in a ‘sahan’, which is a large single dish. This creates opportunities for the families to eat together by up to six people.

Besides, as Sri Lanka is a country with different ethnic groups people exchange festival special dishes with people from other faiths. This especially happens among neighbours, friends and colleagues. Furthermore, on this day, another focus is on giving gifts, particularly to children. In Sri Lanka, known and unknown children visit Muslim houses during the festival and they are never sent back empty-handed. Kids are very excited on this day as they receive toys and money as gifts from their families.

Visiting Loved Ones Graves

Besides, Muslims find it an opportunity to visit their loved ones’ graves and pray for the departed souls. Thus, this festival happens to be a day of remembrance, and love as well. 

The Bottom Line

After all, Ramadan, the festival of Muslims, that concludes the Islamic holy month of fasting, encourages the fundamental values of the Muslim society on a communal basis, several of which are charity and empathy for the needy, respect, patience and faithfulness. Moreover, eid for believers of the Islamic faith is an important holiday of religious importance. Even though the Muslim population in Sir Lanka is comparatively low, the delight of this wonderful festival is never any less on this beautiful island. Thus, Eid is indeed a festival of joy for the Sri Lankan Muslims!