“So-so and so sent you a Ramadan-Mubarak/Ramadan Kareem card! Send one back!” Even facebook heralds the Holy month of Ramadan. In the past, I’ve written about what Ramadan represents to me as an individual and the difference between observing Ramadan here in the U.S. (in college) and back home in Ghana. (You can read a piece here.) I believe that some of the religious conflict and tension that exists stems from our lack of understanding of one another. Sure, you might know that a certain friend of yours is Muslim/Christian, or you might assume that he or she is a believer in either religion because of his/her name, but do you actually know what his or her religious beliefs entail and stand for? When we don’t inform ourselves, it’s very easy to fall for media propaganda and to be incited towards hating one another. Hence, this post is going to be the first of several (inshallah) that will give insight into what Islam is about, and particularly what Ramadan is about. I sincerely hope that people learn something new from this, and that it helps us all reclaim our right to think for ourselves, instead of feeding into propaganda and hearsay.
First off, Islam doesn’t represent or encourage terrorism. Quite the contrary. Islam teaches peace and submission to the will of God. It is derived from the Arabic word “Salam” which literally means “peace”. “Allah” is the Arabic word for “God”, just as “Onyame”, “Nawuni”, “Dieu” and “Dios” are the Twi, Dagbani, French and Spanish equivalents of the English word “God.” Islam is founded on five pillars, known as the pillars of Islam (pretty straightforward, huh? lol) and is a monotheistic religion (Mono= one. Belief in one God). They are:
– Faith [Kalimat Shahaddah]: Bearing witness to the ‘Oneness’ of Allah/God and recognising that Mohammed (Peace Be Upon Him (PBUH) ) is a prophet of Allah.
-Prayer [Salat]: The observance of the five compulsory prayers.
– Charity & Alms-Giving [Zakat]: The provision of some portion of a Muslim’s wealth (be it in money or in kind) to the needy and poor in society.
– Fasting [Sawm]: Fasting during the Holy Month of Ramadan.
– Pilgrimage [Hajji]: Pilgrimage to the Holy City of Mecca.
Depending on where you live in the world, you might or might not have daily interactions with Muslims, and actually see elements of their religion around. Most of my Ghanaian friends who aren’t Muslim are cognizant of Islam…to some degree. Generally, they associate Arabic names (such as Jemila, Maimouna, Aisha, Abdul, Mohammed, Samira etc) with Islam. And half the time, they might be right in their speculation that someone with an Arabic name is Muslim. But that is not always the case. And the phenomenon where most people from Northern Ghana have Arabic names and are Muslim is also not to chance. Generally-speaking, many Northern communities in Ghana originated from places like Nigeria where Islam was propagated by the Moors.
Another thing that automatically points to Islam in Ghana (from my experience and those of other Ghanaian Muslims I know) are the two main Islamic festivals which are observed as holidays in Ghana: Eid ul-Fitr and Eid ul-Adha. For most, these two celebrations are associated with a lot of meat and food. And to some degree they are. But they go way beyond that. Eid ul-Fitr or the Festival of “Breaking the Fast” is the celebration of thanksgiving at the end of Ramadan (yes, soon!! lol). Eid ul-Adha commemorates the sacrifice that Abraham and Ishmael (Isaac according to Christianity) made to God (yes, Islam and Christianity share similar histories).
One thing that I’ve heard many people associate Islam with in Ghana is “noise-making”. Which in itself is ironic since the very act of prayer and worship in Islam are particularly solemn. Anyways, many teachers (especially) would often say to a noisy class “Keep quiet, this is not a makaranta” (meaning an Arabic school). Unfortunately, they only succeed in displaying their ignorance about that particular matter. What the teachers refer to in this case, is the Qu’ranic recitations that go on in the Arabic schools. Many Muslims around the world memorize the Qu’ran and it’s considered a great honor and blessing to commit the entire Qu’ran into memory. (It is believed that the mention of each letter or syllable while reading the Qu’ran garners some amount of blessings upon the person reciting it.) Additionally, the chapters and verses in the Qu’ran are used for praying, so it is an integral part of a Muslim’s life. The fact that one doesn’t understand a specific language (in this case Arabic), doesn’t mean that it should be discarded and labeled as “noise”. If a Ghanaian who spoke absolutely no English were to walk by a nursery school where the children were reciting “Baa, baa, black sheep, have you any wool” at the top of their lungs, it would probably sound like jibberish to that individual. Taking such a situation, giving it negative connotations and encouraging others (in the case of teachers, students) to do the same is exhibiting one’s ignorance as far as I am concerned.
Okay, I suppose this is quite the intro to Islam in general, and in Ghana specifically, but it is by no means everything. Ramadan in Ghana and many other countries starts tomorrow on Friday, August 21st. Which, come to think of it, is in itself special since Friday is the day for congregational (Juma) prayers. It’s kinda the Islamic equivalent to Sunday in Christianity. Anyways, for those of you who happen to have Muslim friends out there, you can surprise them with a Ramadan Mubarak as they prepare for this important month! Peace!!!
Jemila Abdulai is the creative director, editor and founder of the award-winning website Circumspecte.com. A media and international development professional and economist by training, she combines her business, communications and project management expertise with her strong passion for Africa. Besides writing and reading, she enjoys travel, global cuisine, movies, and good design.