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Rana Safvi is a well known writer, historian and chronicler of Delhi. Having written for The Times of India and the Hindu, she also leads heritage walks across Old and New Delhi, bringing history alive for people. She discusses the meaning of Ramzan:

 

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Q. What is the origin of Ramzan?

RS. Fasting in the month of Ramzan is one of the Five pillars of Islam.

It is observed in the ninth month of the Islamic calendar called Ramadan ( Arabic pronunciation) and Ramzan in countries with Persian influence.

The first Ramzan fasts were observed  around two years after the Prophet’s migration to Medina. The command for fasting was revealed to the Prophet after his migration to Medina in the second Surah of the Quran e Majeed – Surah Baqarah.

[Yusufali 2:183] “O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that ye may (learn) self-restraint”. 

Q. What is the relevance of fasting in Islam?

RS. Ramzan is the month in which the Holy Quran was revealed to the Prophet.

Ramzan is not just about fasting or staying hungry and thirsty for one month, but much more. 

It’s main purpose is to learn self-control and strengthen will power. Ramzan is the month in which we have to guard against all temptations and evil. A roza is not for the stomach alone, it’s for the tongue too: one must not utter anything harsh — in anger, malice, spite or cruelty.

Whoever does not give up forged speech and evil actions, Allah is not in need of his leaving his food and drink (that is Allah will not accept his fasting).”

A roza is for the eyes: one must guard oneself from being attracted towards evil and to raise one’s voice if one witnesses oppression.

A roza is for the body: one must not indulge in wrongful and illegal acts. A roza is for the heart and the mind: to remain engrossed in remembrance of God and spirituality, and to increase one’s faith in God and remain steadfast.

Ramzan is the month for charity: for giving zakat and helping those who are needy.

Q. How does Ramzan compare to other fasting festivals like Paryushan in Jainism and does it have any other counterparts?

RS. Fasting has many beneficial health effects and we find it in almost every religion as per their customs. The Christians fast in Lent, Hindus fast in Navratri and on various days throughout the year.

Paryushan is a time for self-analysis and soul searching and Jains study their scriptures and reflect on basic principles of Jainism to purify their conduct. There are some prescribed fasts during this time and their aim is also to learn self-control.

The rules of fasting are different for different religions. In some the followers give up a particular item of food or just have water.

Muslims fast for 30 consecutive days from dawn to sunset and during that period water and all items of food are to be abstained from.

Q. Is the Quran the only text that dictates the customs of Islam?

RS. As per the belief of Muslims The Holy Quran is the word of Allah revealed to Prophet Muhammad via Arch Angel Gabriel over a period of 23 years. It lays down commands for believers. While the Quran is complete in itself it will not be easy for a lay person to understand thus, the way those commands are to be followed are laid down in language that is intelligible to all followers in the the Divinely-Prescribed Law or shariah in light of the Quran and Hadith or sayings of the Prophet.

The shariah is interpreted and formulated as law by Muslim jurists and is called fiqh or Islamic jurisprudence.

Q. What is your favourite tale from the Quran or Hadith?

RS. My favorite story in the Quran is the story of The Queen of Sheba.

Her wisdom in dealing with the challenges that were set for her by Prophet Solomon have always affected me immeasurably.

Q. What role do you think does mythology play in a religion?

RS. Myths are stories connected to particular cultures which have been handed down over generations. They are different from religion and should not be confused . Yes, sometimes myths influence the practitioners of various religions who belong to those cultures.

Q. Tell us a little more about Ramzan food – are there any special dishes?

RS. Dates because of their nutritional value are a staple for breaking the fast. Apart from that food depends upon the region. In  north  India we like samosas and pakoris, in Ladakh I observed that momos were a must!

Read Rana Safvi’s ‘Tales from the Quran and The Hadith’ on  Juggernaut.

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