Since time memeorial, rituals and myths that are held by a certain community have alsways been some of the main elemetns that define and differentiate that community from the rest of the world.
Although presently societies have undergone a great revolutuion in terms of development and embracing new cultural practices as compared to few decades ago, there is little that has changed in most myths and rituals that are respected not only by societies, but also religious groups globally (Bell 2-7).
For instance, the Muslims have specific rituals that identify them; rituals that have been there since the onset of this religion. Although some of them are very old, adherents of this faith respect and believe in them, because they define their entire way of life. Ramadan is one of those Islamic ceremonies that are associated with numerous myths and rituals.
A myth is a traditional story with a purpose. It is usually concerned with early history of people and explanations of some social phenomenon. Typically, it involves supernatural beings or events that are done by these supernatural beings (Kluckhohn 47-52). Myths also try to explain why the world is the way it is and the relationship between gods and humans. There are two main classes of traditional tales, which are common in most societies.
These are fables or myths, which have some aspect of truth in them or those that are just imagined and told (Campbell 3-5). Myth stories are false stories because they took in primordial age. In addition, the supernatural beings in the stories make the events in a myth usually impossible. But in their explanations, they try to send a message that has a very important social or religious meaning. Mythology – the study of myths- tries to search for the connection between myths and different cultures.
Hence, to larger extent, myths are used to establish models for behavior by providing meaningful religious experiences. On the other hand, through the use of myths, in most scenarios communities have a tendency of separating themselves from the contemporary world by embracing the mythical world. They also try to answer numerous common questions asked by humans like; who made the universe? And what, why, and when was the entire phenomenon in the world created (Campbell 3-6).
A ritual on the other hand, is a custom, ceremony, a procedure or series of systematic set of actions that are performed at specific events, time and place with a symbolic meaning. The significance of a ritual primarily depends on tradition or religion of a society.
Actions performed in a ritual are usually chosen by the performers but the words and what they symbolize must conquer and endorse the any myths that are held by that society. The function of rituals varies from one community to another. This is because, rituals symbolizes different things ranging from religious obligations or ideals, spiritual satisfactions, emotional needs, strengthening of social bonds, and giving of moral and social education.
They can be also used to demonstrate respect or submission, the passage or commencement of an affiliation, the getting of social acceptance or approval, and sometimes they can be performed just for pleasure. In other cases, societies perform rituals as a form of adoring God of some gods, as a way of blessing matrimony, or as a way of appeasing the dead.
Generally, although societies perform rituals, because of different reasons, it is the myths and beliefs that are held by these societies that make them to perform them (Bell 3-23). This is the case primarily because; these rituals are one of the primary factors that are used to identify a group or a community, because they help in promoting good interpersonal relationships, for example, the Islamic Ramadan.
Although the word “Ramadan” in Arabic speaking communities is used to refer to very intense heat, in Islamic, Ramadan is a name of a month in the Islamic calendar (Bell 124-127). As research studies show, this title was selected, as it wholly represented the real climatic conditions and biological changes that are associated with fasting. Throughout the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, which runs for a time span of approximately twenty nine to thirty days, followers of the Islamic religion, spend the entire twilight without food.
There are so many things that are commemorated during this period, the most important confession of sins or any wrong doing. In most cases, this fasting season commences mostly after the astronomical new moon. This is the case primarily because; followers of this religion believe that, the appearance of this moon is a sign of a new month beginning.
However, because of the time differences of different places in the world, Ramadan begins on different days in various parts of the world, more so those that are found in different time zones. This fact has been one of the primary causes of disagreements every year on the exact time when observing of Ramadan should begin. This is evident in the recent attempts of clerics from this religion to try and solve the misery behind this conflicting concept using astronomical calculations (Hill 1-2).
The most important thing Ramadan commemorates is confession of sins, as individuals take this time to worship and have a spiritual reflection. Majority of followers of this religion will always do anything at their disposal in order to keep themselves holy during this season.
In addition to this, by all means individuals refrain themselves from sexual intercourse until wee hours of the night, when daylight is gone. On the other hand, eating, drinking as well as falling into temptation is discouraged.
According to this religion’s tenets, fasting is one of the primary methods of ensuring purity of both thoughts and actions. That is, in doing this, followers of Mohamed believe that, fasting is one of the most important way of directing the whole heart away from worldly activities, it being the only method of ensuring that they are cleansed together with their inner soul (Bell 124-136).
Also, during this period, every part of the body; right from the tongue, is restricted from back biting and gossip; eyes must be restricted from looking at unlawful things; the hands are not supposed to take anything that does not belong to it and ears are prohibited from listening to idle talk and obscene words.
Therefore, fasting is not just physical but rather, the commitment of one’s fasting routine is meant to teach the Muslims self discipline self control, patience, sacrifice, and empathy towards those who are less fortunate. As a result, it creates a sense of generosity and charity that is commonly referred to as Zakat (The Outreach Center: Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Havard University 5).
During this season, all adherents of this religion are also supposed to go through the entire Qur’an and comprehend its teachings. Others prefer to recite the whole Qur’an as a form of saying special prayers that are known as Tarawih. These prayers must be done every night of the month. During these nights, the whole section of the Qur’an is recited and by the end of the month, one is supposed to have completed the entire Quran.
This is the case primarily because; Muslims hold a notion that, by reading this book, there is a strong link that will form between them and their God, as the reading reminds them of how wonderful God has been to them; hence, the need of them to be good to others by being charitable, doing good deeds, and showing kindness. To show this they prepare special foods and gifts which they give the poor and the needy that are not in position to afford (Bell 124- 129).
Firstly, If’tar primarily entails avoiding any consumption of food and drinks, until the sun goes down. After the sun has gone down, individuals are supposed to come together and share a meal that is commonly refererd to as If’tar. This meal usually begins by eating three dates (the same way Muhammad used to do) followed by the Maghrib prayer (the fourth prayer of the five daily prayers Fard).
After this, the normal meal is served. Over the recent past, If’tar has grown to be a banquet festival, because during this time, families, neighbors, friends, and even the whole community come together for fellowship (The Outreach Center: Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Havard University 6).
This is very significant in Islam and its meaning magnifies more during Ramadan. From time memorial, Ramadan is specifically a blessed time; therefore, Muslims celebrate it by giving in charity (sadaqa) (Ghazi and Rauuam 9-22).
Among Muslims, Laylat al-Qadr is assumed to be one of the main holy nights. Muslims strongly hold the notion that; it is during this night that the Islamic Holy book was given to
Prophet Muhammad. It occurs on an odd numbered night during the last ten days of the same month of Ramadan. It can be either the night of 29th, 27th, 25th, 23rd, or the 21st of Ramadan (Bell 124-133).
Eid Al-Fitr is a feast that is used to celebrate the conclusion of the fasting period and the commencement of a new month. Following the moon’s signals, it is the day when another new moon appears and it means the back to the fitrah. It a special day with cerebrations as food is donated to the poor (Zakat al-fitr); everybody wears his or her best clothes followed by communal prayers that are done in the morning.
These types of prayers are different from the Fard, as they done as a form of worship and thanksgiving. After prayers, different festivals and visiting of relatives and friends follow, as a way of showing love and togetherness (The Outreach Center: Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Havard University 5-6)
In conclusion, all this features of Ramadan are forms of rituals that are performed by those who profess the Islamic religion. These rituals are normally done by Muslims, because of the strong myths they hold about their religion.
For example, by giving freely to the needy, Muslims believe that God will reward them too, for their generous deeds. Regardless of whether this is practical or not, this is one of the rituals that have encouraged cooperation among members of this religion. Another example is fasting as a way of getting pardon from the most high.
Although nobody understands how God (Allah) work, to some level, this myth that God pardons those who fast, has encouraged members of this religion to embrace this ritual; hence, the nature of respect they accord Ramadan. Therefore, there is a clear connection between the myths and beliefs held by Muslims, in relation to celebrating the Holy Month of Ramadan, because it is the beliefs that have been transferred throughout ages that has made observing of Ramadan a habitual ritual.
Bell, Catherine. Ritual: Perspectives and Dimensions. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. Web. 23 Sept. 2011.
Campbell, Joseph. The Power of Myth. New York: Anchor Books, 1991. Print.
Ghazi, Hamid and Rauuam, Omar. Ramadan. New York: Holiday House, 1996. Print.
Hill, Margaret. Carlifonia Three Rs Project: Rights Responsibilities, and Respect. August 31 2011. Web. 23 Sept. 2011. < http://ca3rsproject.org/pdfs/Ramadan2011Resources.pdf>
Kluckholm, Clyde. Myths and Rituals A General Theory. The Havard Theological Review, 35. 1 (1942): 45-79. Print.
The Outreach Center: Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Havard University. Celebrating Ramadan: a Resource for Educators. Harvard University. Web. July 2008.