Ramadan is known to be the month of worship. It is a much-awaited time, for it is a month that is full of Allah's Blessings and Mercy. It is filled with various individual and collective activities by Muslims, which will lead to great rewards from Him and productive relationships in the society.
Besides the individual ibadah, there are many collective aspects of Ramadan which Muslims could experience. The break-of-fast or iftar session with fellow brothers and sisters in the mosques and congregational prayers, including the taraweeh, doing charity to others, are examples of activities that can strengthen the unity and solidarity in the society.
There are many positive experiences that may help individuals improve their relationship with Allah and their fellow members in society throughout Ramadan. I wish to share the experience of spending the month of Ramadan in the two Holy Cities some years ago. It was indeed an invaluable experience when my family and I had the chance to spend a year in AlMadinah AlMunawwarah. It was the year when I served as a visiting academic at Taibah University.
Entering the month of Ramadan was like entering the month of 'celebration,' as it was filled with activities that enhance the relationship between men and their fellow brothers/sisters; and increase the bond between men and their Creator. On the last day of Shaaban and the first evening of Ramadan, we joined Muslims from all over the world at the Prophet's Mosque to offer the 20-rak'ah Taraweeh. The camaraderie or unkhuwwah among Muslims was clearly visible. Before and after the Maghrib prayer time, we saw many mosque-goers offering well-wishes to each other, or dua'; and passing gifts and food to needy people.
Greetings like 'Kullu A'amin Wa Antum biKhairin' were pleasant words to hear. On mobile phone SMS (short message service), one would receive texted wishes and dua' like "May you receive the Rahmah of Ramadan," "May you be blessed with His Maghfirah in the month of Ramadan," or "May you attain His blessings in the month of Ramadan." By the roadside, there were billboards or buntings, offering Ramadan well-wishes or inviting people to join iftar with orphans and needy people. One could also see posters of dua'; or verses related to Ramadan and other fasting-related information being placed along the roadside and highway in the city. In short, the zest of Ramadan was highly magnificent, and we could still feel it, even until today.
During Ramadan, the volume of people in Al-Madinah Al-Munawwarah was extraordinarily huge. We were glad to be one among the millions of Muslims who thronged to the city of the Prophet (peace be upon him-PBUH). They purposely spend money and time visiting his city, which he established some 1,400 years ago. What made us so moved was the preparation of the authority of the Haram-alNabi (Masjidil Nabawi) to play a good host to the guests of Allah and His beloved Prophet (PBUH). Together with the Medina people, the officials of the Mosque have never failed to make me and others feel so delightfully welcomed by their hospitality. For instance, during the iftar time, everyone would have the chance to get a set of the break-of-fast meal, for free of charge. To have the opportunity to break our fast in the Haram, we had to be there as early as Asr-prayer time, or otherwise, we would not be allowed to enter the basement car park. Hence, most of the time, we decided to have the iftar at home. We usually reached the Mosque an hour before congregational Isyak-prayer time to get a comfortable place for the Taraweeh.
In the Haram, one could see many people enthusiastically waiting for the iftar time. After Asr prayer, the ground area surrounding the Haram was turned into a dining area. You would see iftar-hosts (donors) coming with their crews who quickly arranged food and drink on 'sufra' or meal-serving-mat for their guests. You can choose which 'sufra' to join, depending on your choice of food- bukhari rice, briyani, Al-Baik fried chicken, soup, pasta, and many more; in addition to the basic set (yogurt,juice, duqqah AlMadinah, bread, fruit, tamar, zamzam, and qahwa or tea). Inside the Haram, only the basic Iftar meal-set was allowed. Even after prayers, both maghrib and tarawih, light food, and drink were served again. The hosts were busy inviting and ushering people to their 'sufra'. You might also find people distributing drinks, fruit, or sweets to passers-by.
You would notice some people who walked from one person to another in the mosque, offering perfume or walked with an oud-burner or Bakhoor Burner or Mabkhara, which looks like a smoke-producing-bowl. Bakhoor is burned in the Mabkhara to release a remarkably keen fragrance which fills the mosque area with a luxurious scent. Members of Saudi Arabia Red Crescent Society opened their booth at several points around the Mosque compound, availing their services if needed by mosque-goers. The scout teams helped people with wheelchairs, while the Mosque officials render people with various kinds of assistance.
Spending time in Makkah AlMukarramah -about 400KM away from AlMadinah-was also an opportune time for us, acquiring various meaningful lessons about people. People of different nationalities moved in the same direction, faced the same direction, read the same Book, and made similar supplications- Hasanah fildunya wal akhirah. We also had the opportunity to spend four days of Ramadan in the Holy City. The situation was almost like al-Madinah al Munawwarah, but the volume of people was bigger. The Taraweeh prayer in Makkah is something that we treasured most, even until today, especially the melodious and mesmerizing recital of the Quran by Imams like Sheikh al Sudais, and Sheikh Abdullah Juhany.
How I wish to experience and radiate the same feeling of ukhuwah here in the place I stay, and to increase my time of relationship with Him though not having the opportunity to spend the fasting month in the two Holy Cities. Indeed, it is the taqwa that we hold which will make us internalize the month of Ramadan and benefit from the many privileges that He promises us; the month has so many things to offer us. We should not miss them wherever we are.