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Ramzan fast: A Christian influence on Islam

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One of the greatest assumptions about Islamic history is that the Five Pillars of Islam were already set and in place at the time of the Prophet’s death in 632 CE. These pillars include Shahada, Namaz, Ramzan fast, Zakat and Hajj. As per the Standard Islamic Narrative (SIN), the second Caliph Umar introduced Hjra era and its calendar in 639 CE which happened seven years after the death of the prophet.

Before 639 CE, Muslims followed pre-Islamic year having 12 lunar months prevalent then. After introduction of Islamic calendar, it was observed that the first day of Hjra era fell on 19 April 622 CE of the Julian calendar. The first month in Islamic calendar was renamed Muharram and ninth month was renamed Ramzan.

The month of Ramzan has special importance among Muslims as the first verse of the Quran was believed to have been revealed to Muhammad in this month. Muslims fast during Ramzan as a way to commemorate the revelation of the Quran. As per SIN, the first verse was revealed to Muhammad during 610 CE in the mountain cave at Hira in Mecca. It is not known how in 639 CE second Caliph Umar could calculate that the first revelation came on the first day of the month of Ramzan of his new Islamic Hjra calendar?

As per pre-Islamic calendar, the name of the ninth month of the year was Natiq. Introduction of Islamic calendar and giving of new names to 12 Islamic lunar months replaced the pre-Islamic names. So, the month of Natiq corresponded to Ramzan. With this background information, it was impossible that Muslims before 639 CE observed monthlong dawn-to-dusk fast in Ramzan, when that month was not in existence. Quranic reference to Ramzan fasting cannot be taken seriously as we don’t have any manuscript of seventh century Quran talking of Ramzan fast.

It was another matter of imagination how in the hot and arid desert of Arabia, Muslims could observe total fasting (not consuming any food or liquid of any kind including saliva) for about 12 hours each day for a whole month? This type of fasting was possible when Muslims settled in areas of cooler climate outside the Arabian desert. By all accounts, Ramzan fasting is a later addition to Islam.

Influence of older religion on newer ones and intermixing of rituals and practices of nearby religions were commonplace all along. Christian Lord’s Day on Sunday, Jewish Sabbath on Saturday and Islamic Jummah on Friday are most important days of the week of respective religions.

For Jewish people, Barechu serves as a call to prayer. In the case of Christians, the Church bell rings as a call to prayer and in the case of Islam, Azan is given from the mosque as a call to prayer. These similarities are not accidental. It is widely accepted that the Quran has heavily taken materials mainly from Jewish scriptures and some from Christian scriptures. Besides Sabian faith, Zoroastrianism and even Buddhism also left their imprints on Islam.

Fasting has been a part of all religions/faiths since time immemorial. Three Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) have practice of fasting of different kinds for the followers. Judaism has two major fasts from Sunset of the previous day to Sunset of next day.

The four other minor fasts in Judaism are from Sunrise to Sunset of the same day only. These fasts are not continuous and spread over the year. In Christianity, five seasons are there in a year and collective fasting is done in certain seasons. The longest duration of Christian daily dawn-to-dusk fast, called Lent, is for 40 days prior to Easter. The fasting is done from Monday to Saturday with exclusion of Sunday. This makes a total period of 48 days.

The fast for 25 hours on the Jewish Day of Atonement (falling in the month of September or October) is observed in Israel when everything comes to a halt in the country. In other parts of the world, Jewish fasting is not visible because of their very small number of populations in the world. Christian fasts are also not obligatory today and not seen in a major way world over.

However, Islamic month long obligatory fast from dawn-to-dusk every day, during the month of Ramzan, is felt and seen world over because of the 1.8 billion of Muslim population in the world who get engaged in different religious activities individually and collectively during the month. Moreover, the breaking of the daily fast after Sunset, called Iftari, is a community celebration that spills over to the food stalls in the alleys and streets outside their houses.

Before the next day’s fast starts in Ramzan, Muslims take a major pre-dawn meal called Sehri. Though barred to eat and drink during the dawn-to-dusk fast, lavish Iftari and Sehri are consumed by the middle-class and well-to-do Muslims. This sometimes causes wastage of food. The high demand for food items during Ramzan causes price rise also of those items in the developing countries in particular. Though the rich and middle-class Muslims donate food to poor Muslims during Ramzan, over-eating by them becomes very common.

Change of food habit, eating and sleeping time and dislocation of daily routine continuously for a month lead to different health consequences. In some Islamic countries, ‘Religious Policing’ is done by the government to ensure that fasting is done by all.

At the end of the month-long fast in Ramzan, Muslims celebrate Eid al-Fitr for three days after the sighting of the new moon. They wear new clothes on the morning of Eid. Special Namza of Eid is offered at community level in Masjids and Eidgahs. After that Muslims hug each other in the bond of brotherhood. Gifts are given to friends and relatives and lavish foods are served. Wealthy Muslims donate food and new clothes to poor Muslims as their religious obligation.

Ramzan fast is a part of Islamic belief system which, in all probability, had the Christian influence in its origin from Lent of Syrian Christian community. ‘Belief’ is the conviction that a certain thing is true or false, irrespective of its intrinsic truth or falsity.

So, it is better not to attach any divine halo and historicity around Ramzan fast. As can be seen, all the five pillars of Islam are meant to bind the Muslim community together. Practice of Ramzan fast infuses religious pride and solidarity among all Muslims. It has a wider socio-political implication than any divine achievement for the Muslims around the world.

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