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Imam Anwar Al-Awlaki
VIDEO: Understanding Ramadan: A Day in the Life of an Imam
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Understanding Ramadan:
The Muslim Month of Fasting

With Imam Anwar Al-Awlaki
Falls Church Dar Al-hijrah Islamic Center

Monday, Nov. 19, 2001; 3 p.m. EST

Many Muslims around the world are celebrating Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting. For many in the Middle East and in Afghanistan, the tensions of war and military action comes at a time when many Muslims seek spiritual purity. Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. Throughout this month, Muslims fast and concentrate on their faith by spending less time on the concerns of their everyday lives. Fasting during Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam, a time of worship and contemplation.

Imam Anwar Al-Awlaki of the Falls Church Dar Al-hijrah Islamic Center, answered questions and comments on Monday, Nov.19 at 3 p.m. EST about Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting.

View the Camera Works video: Understanding Ramadan: A Day in the Life of an Imam.

Imam Al-Awlaki of Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center in Falls Church, Virginia is also the Muslim Chaplain at George Washington University. He holds a B.S. in Civil Engineering from Colorado State University, a M.A. in Education Leadership from San Diego State University and is currently working on a Doctorate degree in Human Resource Development at George Washington University.

Below is the transcript.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

Imam Anwar Al-Awlaki: Welcome everyone. As many of you may know that Ramadan started on Friday Nov 16. Ramadan is a special season of the year for Muslims. It is a chance to get closer to God and away from the mundane things of this world. It's a spiritual training for the betterment of our selves.

Temple Hills, Md.: With all the famine and war going on in Afghanistan now, are the people there physically fit to begin Ramadan, and if so does that mean that the food that is being sent by the Red Cross goes to waste during the time of Ramadan?

Imam Anwar Al-Awlaki: Even though in extreme conditions one is allowed not to fast but I have still seen people insist on fasting. After doing it for a while it becomes very difficult not to. What I know of the Afghan people is that even in harsh conditions they would still want to fast. The food that is been sent to them will still be used because the fasting is only during the daytime. At night people are free to eat.

Baltimore, Md.: During Ramadan, in addition to fasting, do Muslims also have to abstain from marital sex?

Imam Anwar Al-Awlaki: Yes, during the daytime(from sunrise to sunset) any food, or fluid intake, or sex is refrained from.

Rice Lake, Wis.: The Catholic church abandoned Latin as the official language for worship to promote more acceptance and participation by the lay members of the local parishes.

Why is Islam still promoted using Arabic only?

Imam Anwar Al-Awlaki: The Quran is translated to many languages. However, it is always the case with translation that the meaning would be different from the original. In translation you loose many of the secondary meanings and connotations of a word. For that purpose the Arabic language is a safeguard for the protection of the original meanings of the revelation. That holds true only for the Quran. Other than that, sermons, supplications, and prayers can be done in any language. In mosques around the world you would find that services would be offered in the indigenous language of the people.

Tucson, Ariz.: First, I hope your holiday is a happy one for you and your family. With so much focus on Islam right now what should the non-Islamic world learn as a important lesson from the religion? Are there inter-faith outreach programs sponsored by Islamic mosques?

Imam Anwar Al-Awlaki: Thank you very much. There are inter-faith services held in our mosque and around the greater DC area and in all over the country. The best thing our non-Muslim friends could do is to do some reading of the Quran. The Quran is the center of the religion and by reading it one would be able to get the best explanation of what Islam is about. We definitely need more mutual understanding.

Arlington, Va.: At what age are Muslims expected to start fasting? Also, was Ramadan founded on a significant historical event? -Stephanie

Imam Anwar Al-Awlaki:
Fasting becomes prescribed at the age of puberty. However, Muslims families usually train their children to start a little earlier so by the time they reach the age of puberty they area ready for it. Most of the time it is the kids who insist on fasting while the parents try discouraging them because they might be to young. I remember when I was young fasting for half of the day until noon.
The Quran states: "O you who believe fasting is prescribed on you as it has been prescribed on the believers before you that you may gain piety" So we are told that this was a religious ritual practiced by all the Prophets including Jesus and Moses peace be upon them.

Annandale, Va.: Imam, I am Jewish and unfamiliar with your customs. I don't want to ignore this holy month when I see my Moslem neighbors from down the street merely because I'm too ignorant to know whether there is a special greeting that is correct for Ramadan. Can you tell me whether there is such a greeting, and, if so, what it is? Also, is there a customary gift that it would be nice to give my neighbors at a certain time during the month (such as ceremonial foods for breaking the fast)? Thank you for giving me the opportunity to learn more about Islam.

Imam Anwar Al-Awlaki: "Ramadan mubarak" would be good to greet your Muslim neighbors with. It means: Have a blessed Ramadan.
The only food that is cross-cultural for all Muslims during the month of Ramadan is dates. That is because the Prophet Muhammad used to break his fasting on dates.

Seattle, Wash.: How does one incorporate prayers into a workday that may span from 7:30 am to 5:00pm?

Imam Anwar Al-Awlaki: Each of the five daily prayers does not usually take more than 5-10 minutes. So what Muslims do is they take a short break to pray. Also the prayers do not have to be in a mosque, even though they are recommended to be, so one could pray at work

Boise, Idaho: What is Ramadan?
Why does it happen in November?
Why does it last for so long?
Is their any special day of the Ramadan which has more meaning than the others?

Imam Anwar Al-Awlaki: Ramadan is the name of the tenth month in the lunar calendar.
It does not always happen in November. Because the lunar year is 11 days shorter than the solar year, Ramadan moves ahead 11 days every year. So in one's lifetime they are likely to fast Ramadan in all the seasons of the year.
The most special night of Ramadan is the night of the 27th, which is thought to be the night of power "laylatul Qadr" This is the most blessed night of the year.

Falls Church, Va.: Why do Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset and then, they can eat whatever they want? Do you call this fasting?

Imam Anwar Al-Awlaki: Because Muslim fasting involves complete obtaining from food and drink, carrying it beyond the daytime is a very difficult thing. God says in the Quran: "Allah intends for you ease and does not want to make things difficult on you".
Ramadan is a chance for us to feel for the poor, to learn discipline, and commitment. We are not supposed to suffer but to sacrifice.

Virginia: I understand that Ramadan begins with a particular new moon. I noticed that the last crescent moon was particularly beautiful, and was reminded that the crescent moon is an important icon in the Islamic world. Why? Is it because it is associated with the beginnings of Ramadan? Or are there other reasons? It may seem like a basic question, but I honestly don't know anyone else to answer it.

Imam Anwar Al-Awlaki: God says in the Quran: " They ask you (Muhammad) about the crescent. Say: These are signs to mark fixed periods of time for mankind and for pilgrimage" Sura2 Verse 190. So the new moon in addition to being a beautiful sign of God ( we are taught to say whenever we see the moon: My lord and your lord is God") but it is also a method of calculating time. And both fasting and pilgrimage are performed at a specific time which is recognized by a sign of God, namely the moon.
But the crescent turning into a symbol in the Muslim world was a late occurrence. It was associated with the Ottoman empire

Washington, D.C.: Thank you for taking my question. My question is not exactly about Ramadan, but about Islamic prayer in general.

Often when the media shows images of Muslims praying, it's often of men bowing and praying.

Do women pray in this way as well? Are they led by a female equivalent of an Imam? Do they pray at the same time as men? Before? After? Do they pray in a separate part of a mosque? Can whole families of men and women pray together?

I hope you forgive my ignorance, and thank you for helping me learn more about Islam. I hope you have a blessed Ramadan.

Imam Anwar Al-Awlaki: Men and Women pray at the same mosques in different sections in the same time in the same way. During the time of Muhammad Men and Women prayed separately but in the same prayer room. Nowadays mosques have separate facilities for men and women. The reason why most of the time footage shows men is because some Muslim women do not feel comfortable being filmed. So it is difficult to know who would mind and who would not and therefore filming crews do not film them. However on the footage associated with this interview you would see women praying and that is because the Camera man did ask their permission.

Alexandria, Va.: I saw your video on the Washington Post website this morning. Perhaps I am too biased as an American, but just what other avenues should or could the US have tried as opposed to as you put it - 'rushing into this war'?

Also, like we say 'Merry Christmas', is there any special greeting Muslims use during Ramadan?

Imam Anwar Al-Awlaki: The Taliban repeatedly said: show us the evidence and we will turn over whoever is guilty with the crime. The US should have given them the benefit of the doubt. Also our government could have dealt with the terrorist attacks as a crime against America rather than a war against America. So the guilty would be tried and only them would be punished rather than bombing an already destroyed country. I do not restrict myself to US media. I check out Aljazeerah and European media such as the BBC. I am seeing something that you are not seeing because of the one-sidedness of the US media. I see the carnage of Afghanistan. I see the innocent civilian deaths. That is why my opinion is different.
Keep in mind that I have no sympathy for whoever committed the crimes of Sep 11th. But that doesn't mean that I would approve the killing of my Muslim brothers and sisters in Afghanistan. Even though this is a dissenting view nowadays but as an American I do have the right to have a contrary opinion.
You can congratulate your Muslim friends with "Ramadan Mubarak"

Egypt, Cairo: Happy Ramadan to all Muslims and Arabians in the U.S.A.

Imam Anwar Al-Awlaki: Ramadan mubarak for you too.

Gaithersburg, Md.: Would eye drops, during daylight hours, break my fast. I have an eye doctor's appointment and he will dilate my pupils. Should I wait until Ramadan is over? Thank you.


Imam Anwar Al-Awlaki: No they don't

Reston, Va.: I noticed during your video that you seemed not to spend any time at work, school, etc. Would a Muslim, during Ramadan, try to work less hours so that he could attend services during the day?

Imam Anwar Al-Awlaki: Well being an Imam that is sort of my work. I lead the prayers, teach lessons, and deliver the Friday sermon. I do go to school and I find it a bit difficult to keep up with all my duties during this month.
People who have a regular 9-5 work schedule would skip the midday and afternoon prayers at the mosque and pray them at work. Many would then break their fasting with their families, or a group of families would get together, and then they would go to the mosque at night.
Ramadan is a very demanding month.

Washington, D.C.: Forgive me for my ignorance, but is it really healthy for the human body to abstain from eating or drinking during the prime part of the day? Doesn't that make one weak and tired? I truly believe it takes great discipline to fast from sunrise to sunset for nearly a month, but it seems there are physical consequences to this sort of "discipline". I have a Muslim friend who, because she has not eaten all day, often does not eat at night either, because her body no longer believes it is hungry. What is your perspective on this?

Imam Anwar Al-Awlaki: By not eating for the whole day, usually the appetite during the night is weak. So overall there is a decrease in food intake. I think that is very healthy because it gives the stomach a break and it allows the body to adapt to the decrease by increasing the efficiency of the stomach in extracting nutrients, and the body in utilizing the nutrients. Plus, in a time when there is an overweight problem isn't fasting a religious duty but also a good diet program?
Even if for some people there are some slight negative health side effects the good of feeling the humbleness of hunger is greater to me. Now when there is a definitive health risk in fasting a Muslim is not supposed to fast. They instead feed a poor person for every day they miss.

Vienna, Va.: Can you still smoke during the month of Ramadan?

Imam Anwar Al-Awlaki: Not at all. I was telling my congregation that anyone who smokes should use Ramadan as an opportunity to quit smoking.

Washington, D.C.: Ramadan Mubarak Imam Anwar.
Does the fast start at dawn (05:15 a.m.) or at sunrise (06:56 a.m.).

Thank You

Imam Anwar Al-Awlaki: Ramadan Mubarak
Fasting starts at 5:36. Thanks

Adelphi, Md.: I just love Muslim people, and I also have lots of friends who are Muslims in the school. They all are so respectful, intelligent and honorful. But, I have one question that in the religion of Islam is it OK killing people and force women to wear burqas like what Taliban used to do in the Afghanistan? Also, is it bad for women to get education? And if so, why not for men?
Thanks a lot for teaching me about the Islam. - Lisa H.

Imam Anwar Al-Awlaki: The imposing of the Burqa on women by a government never happened in the 1400 year history of the Muslim world. the Taliban have no precedence in this. The Prophet along with his companions who ruled over the Muslims after him never did that.
According to Prophet Muhammad: Education is mandatory on every Muslim male and female" That is the teaching of Islam and if anyone does otherwise they have disobeyed the Prophet of Islam himself. About killing, the greatest sin in Islam after associating other gods besides Allah is killing an innocent soul.
Thanks a lot.

Washington, D.C.: It must be more difficult to fast during Ramadan in a non-Islamic country since not everyone is participating, and co-workers are drinking coffee, tea, and snacking at their desks, etc. Do Muslims take offense or think that non-Muslims are insensitive if they insist on following their same eating/drinking routines or would it be better for us to abstain from eating and drinking in front of Muslims out of respect?

Imam Anwar Al-Awlaki: I think Muslims understand that and shouldn't be offended if a non-Muslim eats in front of them.
They would just feel hungry!

Glasgow, Scotland: Al Salamu Alaikum, Imam Anwar, and May Allah grant you more strength. With regards to the 'taraweeh' prayer; What is the minimum number of rak'ats should I perform? And is there a favored sura that would be preferable to recite during the taraweeh?

Imam Anwar Al-Awlaki: Ramadan Kareem to all of you in Scotland. There is no minimum or maximum for Taraweeh prayers. Muhammad(pbuh) used to do 11. His companions later did 21 or 23. In terms of recitation, Ali bin AbiTalib says: " All of Quran is the book of Allah so recite from it whatever you want"

Imam Anwar Al-Awlaki: It is sunset time already. I would need to go and break my fasting. There are many questions left so please accept my apologies if I did not respond to your question. Thank you all very much.

© Copyright 2001 The Washington Post Company


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