New Delhi, November 6: The holy month
of Ramadan (or Ramzan as people in this region pronounce it)
holds a special significance for the people of the Subcontinent. It is a
period when the faithful do not only show piety and compassion but also
try to send across a strong message of communal harmony among the
compatriots and their poor brothers, especially in India.
Muslims utilise lunar, Hijri, calendar
in their reckoning of time where the day starts just after nightfall and
ends at the succeeding nightfall. According to the traditions of Prophet
Muhammad (SAW), it is mandatory that the sighting of the new moon take
place before starting the fast, and failing to do that on the expected
date, fast should begin the following day.
During our Prophet's time when there
was confusion about starting the month of Ramadan, the Prophet's
verdict or advice was to start fasting after the sighting of the Ramadhan
crescent and stop fasting after sighting of the Shawwal crescent.
However, scholars here point to the
sighting of the new moon on different days in distant geographic locations
of the same country as a reason for non-synchronicity of the fasting
Muslims in the Subcontinent, particularly India, still follow the rules of
the local muftis, who insist on actual sighting of the moon by two
reliable Muslims in the region. They do not rely on the announcements made
by Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia. Although, at times muftis may
accept the ruling of the Pakistan's Hilal Committee (Crescent Sighting
As such, there is a Hilal Committee in
every city in India headed by a mufti of imam of the grand mosque in the
city. Besides, there is a central moonsighting committee in New Delhi,
which decides and announces the date after ascertaining the reliability of
the persons who claim to have sighted the moon. There are special
telephone numbers on which such information may be relayed.
The sighting of the new moon is a
social event in itself. It is a joyous moment for every Muslim household
in the country. From the evening itself, hordes of children and elders
could be seen on their rooftops to catch a glimpse of the new crescent.
The moment sighting of the new moon takes place people raise both their
hands for thanksgiving to the Almighty and announce it to others. The
enthusiasm is such that in the sighting of the new moon is even welcomed
by bursting of crackers. Once the sighting is confirmed, sirens fitted in
mosques go out for a few minutes to give the good tiding.
Sometimes the moonsighting committee
makes the much awaited announcement late in the night and this is conveyed
to the faithful through sirens and loudspeakers fitted in almost all the
mosques all over the country. Radio and various television channels also
broadcast this news once the committee makes its announcement. Not only
this, the mainstream and regional media in the country also make it a
point to allot a space to publish the timings of fasting and suhur
However, on occasions there had been
conflict between muftis over the sighting of the moon. In the same
region, there had been reports of observing fast and celebrating Eid on
two different dates. But normally muftis try to arrive at a
consensus and avoid conflict which is resented by ordinary Muslims.
People near and afar are deluged with
the congratulatory messages over the telephones. Markets and streets are
flooded with the faithful who descend to buy eatables, especially dates
and fruits, and other essentials to prepare for the fasting and feasting
month of Ramadhan.
There is a peculiar detail here. Arabs
living here in India follow the Saudi announcement of the beginning of
Ramadan and celebration of Eid. Besides, some people living in the
southern Indian state of Kerala also observe fasting and celebrate Eid
like the Arabs do.
It may also be pointed out that in
Delhi, the Arabs have their own mosques in the posh Defence Colony
locality of the national capital. Besides, a mosque is also located in the
Sudanese embassy compound in the Diplomatic Enclave where Eid is
celebrated usually one or two days ahead of the Indian Muslims.
With the sighting of the new moon, the
faithful observe Tarawih prayers just after the Isha prayers.
These are normally 20 rak'ahs but some observe only eight rak'ahs. In the Huffaz
(memorisers of the Qur'an) take this opportunity to recite the whole
Qur'an during Tarawih. The Qur'an is usually completed in around 25 days.
However, some Huffaz complete the Qur'an in three or five or ten or
fifteen days, as the case may be.
gives a golden opportunity to the Huffaz to revise their
memorisation of the Holy Quran. On the concluding day of the Tarawih
prayer, called Khatm, sweets are distributed and Huffaz are
honoured and bestowed with gifts and monetary benefits. The occasion
provides a grand spectacle on that day when children can be seen queuing
for receiving sweets.
These days some Arab Huffaz,
especially from Egypt, visit various Indian cities and people flock to
hear their recitation of the Qur'an.
The fasting begins with sihri (suhur)
which is a light breakfast shortly before dawn. Hence, the faithful are
regularly intimated about the timings of sihri. In the years
bygone, there used to be drum-beaters who used to do rounds of the
locality and wake up people for sihri. However, the traditional
methods are fast giving way to the modern ones. Moreover, there is dearth
of such people who have migrated elsewhere in search of better livelihood.
Now, sirens and loudspeakers in the mosque have replaced the drum-beaters,
and people are kept informed of the timings by announcement on the
loudspeakers at regular intervals until the end of the sihri time..
is a period when businessmen try to make fast buck. In Muslim localities
prices of eatables like fruits and dry fruits and other essentials soar
due to the increasing demand. Dates imported from Saudi Arabia, Iraq and
Iran are in great demand here since the faithful prefer to break their
fast with a couple of dates following the tradition of Prophet Muhammad
During this pious month, nightlife
comes alive and bustling especially in Muslim localities, like the walled
city of Old Delhi and particularly around the vicinity of the famed Jama
Masjid, which was built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan.
An air of festivity can be seen all
around. People can be spotted jostling around and vying with each other to
have their bags full of shopping. Glitter of plasticwares, glass bangles,
aluminium paandaans (betel cases), colourful arrays of skull caps,
sensuous ittars (non-alcoholic perfumes) all provide a dazzling
The smell of seekh kababs, Degchis
of nahari and paaye tender trotters that have simmered all
night in their own juices and mouthwatering masalas, bowls of thick
pudding all invite the faithful to break his fast with the sunset call of adhan.
The month of Ramadan also comes
with its own mark of providing that extra touch the strengthening of
communal bonds. It is a special occasion for politicians who organise
lavish iftaar parties to woo Muslims. This is period when
politicians of all hues, from the prime minister to ordinary aspirants,
try to send across a message that the people of India are one and tolerant
of others as well.
(Nov. 6, 2002)