Ramadan, the fasting month of the Islamic calendar is an eagerly awaited time by all Sri Lankan Muslims, children and adults alike. This is a time of increased religiousness and relaxation among Muslims compared to the rest of the year. Though Muslims are only 9% of the Sri Lankan population, due to their concentration in towns and trade, the Ramadan atmosphere tends to be felt by everyone.
Ramadan for Sri Lankan Muslims, represents a time to fast and devote a particular focus to prayer, purification and charitable acts. During the whole month of Ramadan, the faithful Muslims do not let food or drink pass their lips from dawn (before sunrise) to dusk (sunset). It is a time of strict discipline and abstinence in food as well as many other things we do, which correctly followed, will increase your Takwa (faith/conscious of God) and make you a stronger and better person.
Note: Ramadan Fasting, is one of the five key pillars underpinning Islam, the faith of Sri Lankan Muslims. The others are the Prayers (Salat), giving a percentage of your money/assets in charity (Zakat), making the Haj pilgrimage to Mecca and, of course, a belief in the Muslim faith (Shahadah).
In a typical Sri Lankan Muslim household, everyone gets up before dawn at around 3 or 4 a.m. to have a meal, usually of rice and curry before beginning the fast. Everyone keeps a special intention, making a bond that one has begun the fast for the day. This before dawn meal time is called Suhur. Right after Suhur gents and boys head to mosques for Fajar (Dawn) prayers while women pray at home.
After a short nap men & women begin the day. People who work leave for their jobs and shops. Everyone tries to engage in lot of Quran recitations during the daytime of Ramadan whenever they get time. Those left behind at home tend to household work while in the evening women get busy with preparations for Iftar (breaking fast) meal.
Most Muslim children in Sri Lanka go to Muslim schools, where they get holidays for Ramadan. So for boys and girls, Ramadan is a time of joy and leisure where they form groups and play indoor games like Carom and avoid long exhaustive outdoor sports like cricket or footbal which they do during the rest of the year. In the evening the working crowd returns home and eagerly await for the Adan call of the Evening (Maghreb) prayer to their fast.
In a Muslim home, breaking fast is a special occasion every day. Special snacks are prepared or bought from shops like fried Patis, Rolls, Samosas and a special soup called, ‘Kanji’. Kanji is a kind of gruel/soup prepared from rice, which is usually made and distributed by all Sri Lankan mosques to Muslim households. After breaking fast and praying Maghreb (Sunset) prayers, people usually relax as a family or recite the Quran for about an hour or so until the Night (Esha) prayers.
For Ramadan period mosques in Sri Lanka arrange for special areas for women prayers so they can come and pray the Esha (Night) prayers and the special Ramadan ‘Taraweeh’ prayers, which takes about an hour. On weekends, and special days, mosques also organise lectures by visiting Islamic scholars.
Most Sri Lankan Muslims fast and a majority of them attend prayers at mosques especially during the Ramadan period. In addition many rich Muslims distribute their Zakat (obligatory charity) money among the poor Muslims in this month. Lot of Sadaka (Charity) is also done during this month.
Ramadan ends with the celebration of Eid-ul-Fitr festival day. People put on new cloths and go to the mosque in the morning just after sunrise and pray in congregational Salah (Prayer) and then listen to a sermon. Afterwards they give Salaams (wishes) and hugs to each other as a blessing and gesture of brotherhood and happiness.
The festival day in Sri Lanka is also a day of family unions where extended families living in different areas come to their parental houses and celebrate the festival with a grand launch. Undoubtedly the happiest on this special day are the kids as they receive “Perunal Salli” (Festival money) as gifts from parents and relatives, which fill their heart with joy.
(Note: This article was first published by an editor of srilankamuslims.org in a Blogspot blog post in 2006/7. We have reproduced it here with slight improvements.)