At the heart of the Islamic calendar is the sacred month of Ramadan. Earnest prayers, a revived sense of gratitude, and gentle acts of kindness are all central to Muslims before the awaited break of fasting at Eid al-Fitr. “When the month of Ramadan starts, the gates of heaven are opened and the gates of hell are closed,” outlines the word of the Prophet Muhammed.
Inaugurated by the new moon at the month’s advent, Ramadan delicately pays homage to the birth of Islam. “[Ramadan] is the month of blessings,” explains Isra* (III, MGT). “It’s the time when [a lot of Muslims] like to reset their faith.” Thus, Ramadan invites Muslims to ardently kindle the spirit of sacrifice and self-restraint in the somber retelling of the Night of Destiny—the revered evening where the Earth perfectly synergizes with the night’s divinity, honoring Allah’s revelation of the Qur’an to the Prophet and recalling the first verses of the holy book.
Heartened by a reinvigorated closeness to Allah, Muslims sow the seeds of the celebration through fasting, showing goodwill, congregating with fellow believers, and straying from sin. From dusk to dawn, Ramadan is a hallowed occasion where Muslim devotees assiduously seek the fullness of their faith.
In good company
Ramadan is a holiday built upon centuries of culture and tradition. One of its hallmarks is that it is mirthfully communal. Laced into the holy month is a renewed opportunity for family and friends to gather together—and the unique routines each household practices are part and parcel of the celebration.
For many Muslims, meal preparations during Ramadan are a labor of love from family members. Isra shares how her mother and aunt meticulously prepare suhur, the meal before sunrise which precedes the fast, and iftar, the meal at sunset which breaks the fast. “[For suhur, they] would get up earlier than most of us,” she affectionately recalls, “Around four or five o’clock [in the afternoon], someone would start cooking [for iftar].”
In the same vein, Hannah Pukunum (II, PSM-MKT) illustrates her family tradition of baking pita bread, which is typically served for their iftar and suhur. Citing its mild taste, Pukunum typically shys away from eating the dish—but in the spirit of Ramadan and family, it becomes a staple to her celebration. “That memory of us [baking them] made pita bread special even with its plain serving,” she remarks.
Recounting more of her household’s practices, Isra warmly narrates how her family invites their friends to iftar parties, where they collectively break their fasts. “That was the only time that I ever met my Muslim, half-Pakistani, half-Filipino friends,” she reminisces. “As a community…you like to associate with those who understand [your traditions].” Similarly, Pukunum articulates, “I usually see [Ramadan] as a time where people would see the bond and faith of the Muslim community as one.”
This celebration of the revelation of the Qur’an to the holy prophet Muhammad has faced the undiminished faith of Muslims. As the holiday continues to be commemorated, the meaning of Ramadan is understood through the lens of a new generation. “For the people who are fasting for the first time—[Ramadan] can be a very spiritual moment for them,” Isra aptly states, conjuring an image of how a kid’s first celebration of Ramadan can be a rite of passage that opens up a new phase of their identity as Muslims. These newly opened avenues for spirituality give young believers more opportunities to reflect and to connect with God.
With the month-long celebration marking a period of deep introspection and prayer, younger generations are able to develop a deeper, personal meaning of the holiday. Applying their social values and worldviews, they insert meaning into these traditions passed unto them. Pukunum shares, “I take this opportunity of [a] relatively quiet period to keep it more personal and not too focused on what others would say, and I guess that is how my faith strengthens.”
But there are many taboos that restrict Muslims to truly celebrate this sacred time. Many women conceal the fact that they are not fasting due to their period, fearing judgment from their families. This is despite Prophet Muhammad’s sayings or the Hadiths condoning the exemption. For Isra, choosing not to fast is a reclamation of this taboo narrative, and a manifestation of her relationship with Allah. She believes, “Since we’re losing blood, vitamins, and minerals, God was nice enough to decide to give us a break so that we can replenish ourselves before fasting again.”
Similarly, Pukunum chooses to leniently fast, practicing Ramadan based on her personal connection to God. Through these means, she tries to direct her mindset toward spiritual growth and wellness. “I think I have personally settled my stand with the Big Guy,” she furthers. “But [my] spiritual goal is to become better at practicing removing negative thoughts for the peace of my soul and spirit.”
Both Pukunum and Isra’s beliefs are not baseless notions brought up by these youths. Instead, their progressive understanding of Islam has demonstrated to them that their identity as Muslims can be in harmony with their social values.
The bigger picture
Beyond traditions, a combination of introspection and togetherness is paramount during Ramadan. Of equal importance as bettering oneself comes the renewing of a connection with their religious peers. “[When] people weren’t allowed to see each other [because of the pandemic], prayer helped bring me closer to God,” Isra divulges.
Finding inner contentment leads to good deeds becoming second nature. Social interaction is still limited, but Isra finds that the small gestures can be just as impactful. “The older adults in my family usually [take charge of things]. But I try to involve myself in what they’re doing, [if it means] lessening their responsibilities during their fast,” she shares. Actions mean twice as much during Ramadan, but being rewarded for them is the last thing on her mind. “[It] brings us together as a family,” she adds.
In turn, it brings them closer to Allah. Not many holidays and occasions are observed in Islam, making Ramadan all the more special when it comes. “It’s a time for Muslims to show their devotion and faith,” Pukunum articulates. “[No matter the] event, each and every one of us comes together with no fail.”
Isra shares similar sentiments, explaining that the month’s traditions and underlying essence reaffirm her Muslim identity, “[I think about] what I want to bring into this world, or how to be of service to others as a Muslim. It’s also a reminder that [Allah] is always there with me, and that I’m not fighting my battles by myself.”
A mosaic of creeds
Islam is the oldest and second largest monotheistic religion in the country, with six million Filipino Muslims celebrating the holiday as of 2015. But there is still a noticeable lack of appreciation and understanding for Ramadan and other Islamic practices among non-Muslims in the Philippines. To further one’s knowledge of it, Isra makes a simple comparison: it’s not much different from the Lenten season. “[Fasting] is an act of prayer. The intention behind it is quite similar to [that of a Catholic’s fasting], except we have a whole month for it.”
All Pukunum asks is for respect to be given to where any other differences between religions lie. “[Like others], we are all similarly just devoting ourselves and growing in our faiths together as people.” On occasions like Ramadan are Muslims able to pause and find momentary solace in the chaotic present—a practice that the rest of the world should emulate.
*Names with asterisks (*) are pseudonyms