27rd Sha`ban 1437
By the Grace of Allah, the All-Knowing and All-Wise, astronomical new moon will occur on Sunday 5 June 2016 at 4:59am South African time. At sunset on Sunday evening 5 June 2016, the crescent moon, technically known in Islamic terms as the hilal, will be approximately 12 hours and 47 minutes old. According to astronomical experts both locally and internationally, it will be scientifically impossible to see the crescent moon (hilal) with the naked eye anywhere in Southern Africa at sunset on Sunday 5 June 2016. This means that Muslims in South Africa will most likely officially welcome the blessed month of Ramadan at sunset on Monday evening of 6 June and begin the Ramadan fast on Tuesday 7 June 2016.
For those growing numbers of Muslims internationally as well as locally who are convinced of the shar`iah i.e. the Islamic legal validity of accepting astronomical calculations (hisab al-falaki) as a legitimate method of beginning and ending the fast of Ramadan, they will welcome the month of Ramadan at sunset on Sunday 5 June and begin their fasting on Monday 6 June 2016. At the Claremont Main Road Masjid, we will have the first tarawih prayers on Sunday evening, 5 June 2016.
We praise and thank Allah, the Lord of Mercy and Compassion for once again affording us this wonderful opportunity to experience the great blessings of the fasting month of Ramadan. Ramadan is a month of spiritual rejuvenation but it is also a month of reflection and introspection.
Ramadan and Youth Day
It is fortuitous that this year Ramadan coincides with the commemoration of forty years since the 16 June Soweto 1976 uprising. On that historical day in Soweto, spreading all over the length and breadth of South Africa, the youth of our country rose up against the unjust Apartheid education system. Given this milestone, the 2016 celebrations of Youth Day will no doubt take on greater significance. But more importantly, it will hopefully lead to more deeper and critical introspection by our country’s leadership with respect to the ongoing challenges facing South Africa’s crisis ridden educational system.
Ramadan and Local Elections
During Ramadan 2016 we will no doubt also witness intensified political wrangling and power struggles among South Africa’s political parties ahead of our country’s fifth municipal elections, which are scheduled to take place on 3 August 2016. I have elsewhere argued that voting is a moral responsibility that needs to be exercised with great discernment and cannot therefore be dispensed with on the basis of racism or political loyalty and sentiment. We should use this time ahead of elections to critically reflect on the histories of each party, the status and integrity of their candidates, their past and present policies and the promises they make in their electoral manifestos. The party that in your estimate best resonates with the Islamic value system and more especially advances the cause of the poor and the marginalized should be supported. However, as we have argued for a long time now, the Islamic equivalent of democracy i.e. shura means much more than voting every few years.
The Islamic concept of Shura demands that we become active citizens who contribute to the building of consultative and transparent social institutions. By embracing shura or participatory democracy we strengthen our capacity to root out corruption, to stem the tide of violence and crime and to better address the needs of the poor. We can only do that if in addition to casting our votes wisely on 3 August 2016, we also re-commit ourselves to working even harder to strengthen our civil society organizations. I urge you, therefore, this Ramadan to seriously consider becoming a registered member of the Claremont Main Road Masjid and joining us for our Ramadan Jihad Against Poverty campaign and our Annual General Meeting on Sunday 19 June 2016.
Ramadan and the Struggle Against Extremism
At the global level the Muslim community will enter Ramadan 2016 facing an unprecedented level of extremism causing untold suffering and mayhem in the Middle East and elsewhere. Since Ramadan 2014, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), have targeted Christians and Yazidi minorities in Iraq for extermination because of their religious beliefs. However, it is Muslims who do not subscribe to the austere and harsh interpretation of the Islam of ISIS who have been and continue to be the major victims of their brutality and barbarism.
This Ramadan we need to continue to respond to extremist acts of wanton killing by constantly reminding ourselves, and others, that we are compelled by our faith in, and commitment to Islam to protect, defend and preserve the sanctity of all human life. The Glorious Qur’an is replete with references concerning the sacredness of human life (Q6:151; Q17:33; Q25:68).
Therefore as conscientious Muslims and responsible global citizens we cannot remain silent in the face of wanton loss of human life and we must not become weary of stating again and again, loudly and unequivocally, that acts of extremist violence are contrary to the teachings of Islam. The sanctity of human life is a supreme value in Islam and nothing is worth the cost of a human life.
However, more than issuing statements of condemnation, the best way of mitigating the barrage of negative media depictions of Islam and Muslims that emanate from extremist acts, is to nurture and sustain meaningful interfaith dialogue and relationships with our neighbours and colleagues at work. Particularly during the coming Ramadan, we should strive to build relationships based on respect, honour and getting to know one another beyond mere toleration. We should all take responsibility to bear witness to the inclusive and compassionate ethos of Islam.
One of the unfortunate consequences of the atrocities perpetrated by groups like Boko Haram and ISIS as well as the brutal Syrian regime, is the record number of people fleeing war-torn Syria and other parts of the Middle East and Africa. Human rights groups have described the current situation as the largest refugee crisis since the Second World War. All of these unsavoury developments threaten to defile the devotion, serenity and compassion that are the hallmarks of the blessed month of Ramadan.
Ramadan: A Month of Hope and Solidarity
Notwithstanding the despondency, which abounds both within and outside the Muslim community, it is the responsibility and duty of conscientious Muslims not to give in to fear and despair. We need to keep the lamp of hope alive in our communities and Ramadan is an ideal time in which to do so.
During this beautiful and blessed month in which we celebrate the revelation of the Glorious Qur’an, we need to remind ourselves that there are many Qur’anic passages that exhort Muslims to turn to Allah in hope in times of difficulty. One such Qur’anic reference is the well-known verse from Surah al-Zumar, chapter 39, verse 54, in which Allah, the Sublime proclaims:
لَا تَقْنَطُوا مِنْ رَحْمَةِ اللَّهِ إِنَّ اللَّهَ يَغْفِرُ الذُّنُوبَ جَمِيعًا إِنَّهُ هُوَ الْغَفُورُ الرَّحِيمُ
Do not ever despair of God’s Mercy
Indeed, Allah will forgive all sins,
For He is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful
We can also find great solace in Allah’s promise in Qur’an chapter 94 verses 5-6 that after difficulty there will be ease.
However, transformation and moral elevation will not come about merely by hoping. In the Islamic tradition hope has to be accompanied by three other qualities:
- Sabr — spiritual perseverance
- Islah — social reform
- Tajdid — intellectual renewal
Hope can only be sustained by the three elements of mind, body and spirit, or intellectual renewal, reform and spirituality. The blessed month of Ramadan during which we intensify our acts of worship is the time to nurture all of these qualities.
The exacting discipline of fasting in Ramadan will no doubt fortify and revitalize our spiritual resources. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) has aptly described it as a month of sabr i.e. perseverance and fortitude. However, in addition to the overall goal of spiritual transformation, fasting in Ramadan should inculcate in the spiritual seeker a deep sense of solidarity and compassion with the poor and the marginalized. The spiritual discipline of fasting during which we voluntarily abstain from eating and drinking during daylight hours provides us with some insight and appreciation into the suffering and sacrifices of those who are forced to endure daily the pangs of hunger and thirst due to their straitened personal circumstances. In order to give practical and concrete expression to our heightened consciousness of the plight of the poor and the starving we are expected to share a little of our wealth and ourselves with them.
The Socio-Spiritual Purpose of Fasting
This socio-spiritual purpose of fasting is clearly indicated in the Qur’anic injunction in surah al-Baqarah, chapter 2, verse 184, in which Allah, the Lord of Compassion proclaims:
وَعَلَى الَّذِينَ يُطِيقُونَهُ فِدْيَةٌ طَعَامُ مِسْكِينٍ
As for those who are unable to fast (due to chronic illness or infirmity) they should pay a ransom of feeding a poor person
(for each fasting day that is missed) (Q2:184)
The socio-spiritual dimension of fasting in Ramadan is also beautifully embodied in the following description of the disposition of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) during the month of Ramadan by his companion `Abdullah ibn `Abbas:
The Messenger of Allah was the most generous of human beings,
but during the month of Ramadan he became even more generous (Sahih al-Bukhari).
We must thus adorn our fasts with benevolence by becoming more generous with our wealth and time, and by actively and sincerely joining real efforts towards social justice for the poor and the marginalized, and remind ourselves that these efforts need not only be around matters affecting Muslims. Let each one of us during this blessed month of Ramadan resolve to make a difference in small ways.
Ramadan and Supplication
Last but not least, Ramadan is also a time for intensifying our supplications. We should never underestimate the power of prayer. We believe that prayer draws human attention to things that need our attention, and that Allah hears our prayers, which can work to change human events and history. Moreover, supplication and prayer is an integral part of the etiquette (adab) of fasting. This connection is supported by the Qur’anic verse 2:186 and the example of the noble Prophet (pbuh), who identified the fasting individual as one of three blessed categories of people whose supplications and prayers will not be rejected. Ramadan is an ideal time for us to seek corrective action and healing through intensified supplication and prayer.
In conclusion, the commencement of Ramadan 2016 coincides with National Child protection week (29 may – 5 June). This week is marked annually to raise awareness for the rights of children. Sadly, this year it got off to a despairing start as three Limpopo children were kidnapped and killed in the most cruel and demonian ways. We live in perilous times, and while we cannot hide our children from the world, we must be proactive in guarding them.
I ask you to please join me in making a special prayer on this eve of the blessed month of Ramadan for the safeguarding and flourishing of our children:
O Allah, we realise that parenting a child is a challenging task
and we turn to You in humility for Your help and guidance.
Build a hedge of safety around our children.
Protect their bodies, minds, and emotions from any kind of evil and harm.
O Allah, we pray that You protect them from any physical, mental,
or emotional afflictions and abuse.
Draw them close to You for protection from every ill and evil influence
of our society, whether it’s apparent to us or not.
Grant them the best of company as their friends
and grant them hearts that love You.
Penetrate their lives with Your protection and their hearts with Your love
and reverence today and always.
We wish all Muslims a spiritually rejuvenating Ramadan and hope this special time will bring greater peace