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Religion is not bound by only rites and rituals, it goes further, embracing all positive aspects of life into a framework and hence, Islam is aptly termed the complete way of life.
Reading the holy books, performing salaat and observing taraweeh are established righteous virtues but there should be other itineraries rolled up your sleeve towards a spiritual re-awakening during Ramadan.
But first things first…
Over the last one and half millennia there have been some extraordinary translations of the Quran done in many languages. The same is true for Bangla and English.
Reciting the whole Quran once during the month of Ramadan is a highly regarded Sunnah of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and its benefits are easily understood once you embark on this effort.
Although reciting in original Arabic has certain spiritual benefits not to be shared by a literary translation, it is completely understandable if you decide to read in a language of your choice.
Marmaduke Pickthall's translation of the Holy Quran is one of the most widely read. The language is lucid and easy to understand. Editions are easily available in stores and also available in CD format.
Another immensely popular translation is by Abdullah Yousuf Ali. It also has a commentary, which although not as easy to understand as Pickthall, is highly regarded as a standard work on the subject. Lastly, Mohammed Asad provides a pragmatic approach to commentary of the Holy Quran along with a translation of its meaning.
These three works are the standard references that are now available in stores and also available for free on the Internet.
Buying these titles in print will be an expensive undertaking, which may not produce any fruitful result. You may also choose to go for CD editions or free webpages on the Internet.
Cross-referencing a particular subject in the Sahih books will give you an insight on the subject. Also important is the understanding of how hadith are analysed. There are some sites available on the worldwide web, accessible simply with a google search.
One must be careful at choosing a website on Islamic doctrines, but once a selection is made, life can be so much simpler.
Searchtruth.com is a wonderful website where all classic translations of the Quran and Hadith are available. There is also an easy to use search option by means of which you can search for entries within the Quran and Hadith on any specific topic.
There are also options for free downloads and other services.
The night of Qadr
You need not spend the whole night, but keep at least one hour, every night, dedicated in your search for the night of Qadr.
Remember: Small deeds done regularly are more pleasing to Allah.
Charity must take precedence over all good deeds in the Holy month but needless to say being kind to fellow human beings is of the essence. Donate to charity, even if it is a few hundred takas and try to cover a wide range of charity activities. While you can contribute to the Mosque fund during the Friday prayers, you might want to contribute to an orphanage on any other day.
Also bear in mind that less privileged members of your families may hope for some contribution from you, and you should. This should be separate from your zakat fund.
The idea is to work for charity every day, throughout the month. Working as a volunteer at the mosque or a madrassa, serving iftar may as well be the good deed of the day.
Your pious deeds should not be limited to the nights of Qadr, or Ramadan for that matter. This should be a starting step for the year that is ahead, and maybe the rest of your lives.
By Mannan Mashhur Zarif
Of etiquette, sehri and iftar
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. It starts with the sighting of the moon and after 29/30 days ends with the sighting of the new moon of Shawwal, which announces the arrival of Eid.
The night of 27 Ramadan is believed by the Muslims to be the most auspicious night of the year; the Lailatul Qadr, the “night of decree”. This is the very special night when the Holy Qur'an was revealed to prophet Muhammad (PBUH) via the messenger angel, Jibril, as a purified guidance to the salvation of man's undying soul.
Special prayers and recital of the Holy Qur'an is offered throughout the night at homes and mosques across countries. Food and other delicacies are distributed amongst family, friends and neighbours. Food is donated to orphanages, shanties, to the poor and wayfarers.
Ramadan is a month of fasting from dawn to dusk. Fasting in Islam means s'uam, that is to abstain from food, drink, smoking and intimacy from dawn to dusk. While fasting, one is to refrain from loose talk, noisy exchange of words, false oaths, greed, gluttony, covetousness, lying and quarrelling.
Fasting teaches human beings to maintain universal peace and brotherhood. The essence of Ramadan indoctrinates man with patience and tolerance and he learns to feel the pain of deprivation and hardship of hunger, the lack of shelter and healthcare suffered by the less fortunate all over the world. He also learns to contemplate on charity and responds to the needs of the poor and the sick.
Zakat and fitra, along with gifts for Eid are widely distributed amongst the poor and needy. The sick and the senior who cannot fast can resort to 'fidiya'.
Fasting strengthens one's faith, as one fasts in secret and in public for the love of the creator and to please him.
Besides the five regular prayers, Muslims perform tahajjut just before dawn and taraweeh after Isha. All Muslims concentrate more on the recital of the Holy Qur'an. He is optimistic in his hope for reward and purification of his soul and the forgiveness of his sin.
Sehri it is the meal taken just before dawn. The Holy Prophet (PBUH) advised us to have sehri as it is a blessed meal. It sustains the strength needed to go about daily chores. It is a time of family congregation, sharing a voluntary effort in the upliftment of one's spiritual self.
Even children look forward to joining the meal with their parents and grandparents, even though sometimes they can't get through the day. Till the recent past there used to be groups of men singing and walking the streets with lanterns in hand announcing the time of sehri. Now of course we hear the different ring tones of alarm clocks. The whole neighbourhood starts to bustle with a sense of festivity in the graveyard hours.
It is best to keep the meal simple, keeping the plight of the less fortunate and the strained ones in mind. Healthy, nutritious food including corn flakes, oats, curds and fruits are a good choice. Some are used to taking parata and meat curry, again others prefer plain rice with a lightly cooked curry. It is preferable to avoid fried and heavily spiced dishes at sehri.
Iftar it is taken at dusk after the adhaan of maghrib. It means the breaking of the fast.
The word iftar reminds one of all the crispy, crunchy, mouth-watering dishes of piyaju, pakora and the filling dishes of halim, naan, kebab, parata, etc. commonly served at iftar. There is always so much hustle bustle in the kitchen. Along with the cook, the family members join in to give a taste of their own culinary, savoury dishes.
The table is laid with a variety of sumptuous, delicious dishes, juice, sherbet and faluda, the coveted drinks for breaking the fast.
In old Dhaka, the streets start bustling from the late afternoon as the vendors occupy the sidewalk, selling traditional iftar items, particularly in the Chawk Bazaar area, going back to the time of the Nawabs and the Mughal era.
The modern side of the city doesn't fall behind, as dozens of makeshift iftar shops crop up all over the city. The restaurants offer special menus, attracting the younger generation.
Every Muslim country has its own unique and traditional menu for iftar. All arrangements have to be completed in time, as everyone has to be free to sit for iftar at the same time.
Children look forward to it as the elders pamper them with their favourite dishes and praise for their self-control, and the whole atmosphere brims with a feeling of piety and happiness. It is a whole month of festivity with family and friends. Iftar and sehri parties are held everywhere, including offices and clubs.
All this is fine as long as we remember the universal brotherhood that Ramadan signifies and share our sumptuous, delicious meals with the devotees in the mosque, the children of the orphanage, the poor and the needy.
The attitude towards the beliefs and norms of Ramadan bring about a change in the society. The lessons of patience and tolerance and universal brotherhood strengthens faith and overall well-being of the generations to follow, making the world a better place to live in and attain the purification and penance of soul and body that Ramadan preaches in Islam.
By Khurshid Chowdhury
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