A Qualitative Study of Ramadan: A Month of Fasting, Family, and Faith
Indeed, fasting during the month of Ramadan is prescribed and exhorted as one of the Five Pillars of Islam—a foundation of the Muslim faith (Alghafli et al. 2014a). Ramadan, for many practicing Muslims, is the most sacred time of the year, a time that is devoted to enriching spirituality in several ways, including reading the Quran, saying additional prayers (salat), and reciting supplications (Ziaee et al. 2006, pp. 409, 411). Islamic teachings are primarily derived from the Quran, and the compilations of the sayings (hadith) of Prophet Muhammad PBUH.O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may become Al-Muttaqun (the pious). (Fasting) for a fixed number of days, but if any of you is ill or on a journey, the same number (should be made up) from other days. And as for those who can fast with difficulty, (i.e., an old man, etc.), they have (a choice either to fast or) to feed a poor person (for every day). But whoever does good of his own accord, it is better for him. And that you fast, it is better for you if only you know.(Quran 2:183–84; Khan 1971)
Ideally, Ramadan serves as a religious catalyst for individuals to refine their behaviors and improve their relationships with both Allah and those with whom they interact most closely, including and especially, family.Abu Hurayrah reported that the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) said: Every action a son of Adam does shall be multiplied—a good action by ten times its value, up to 700 times. Allah says: With the exception of fasting, which belongs to Me, and I reward it accordingly. For, one abandons his desire and food for My sake.There are two occasions of joy for a fasting person: one when he breaks his fast, and the other when he meets his Lord, and the (bad) breath (of a fasting person) is better in the sight of Allah than the fragrance of musk.
2. Social Science Research on Religion and Family Life
2.1. Social Science Research on Muslims and Muslim Families
2.2. Ramadan: A Brief Overview and Contextualization
3.2. Interview Procedures
3.3. Qualitative Data Analysis
4.1. Dimension 1: Inclusion and Involvement of All Family Members in Ramadan
Alya’s emphasis on “sit[ting] down and eat[ing]” together is a concept to which we will return near the end of this article.We all have to sit and eat. It is not like [one person says], ‘I will eat now’ [and another says], ‘I will grab something later.’ [No], we all sit down and eat [together].
Ismail’s description of the fast is permeated by words of unity—with “we,” “together,” and “family” occurring a composite of nearly 20 times. Indeed, the fact that Muslim families fast (and break their fast) at specific times and in unison seems to enrich family members’ interactions and bonds.Ismail(Sunni husband): [W]e get up early, very early in the morning [to] have a meal together, like a breakfast. We have a meal together, and then after the meal, we read Quran, our scripture. And after we do that, it’s time for prayer. We pray together … [Then], in the evening (after sunset), which is the time of breaking [our] fast, again, the same thing happens as during the morning. We all come together as a family, and we eat together and we thank God together, we pray together. After [that] we break the fast. And then we do more prayers. So the whole month of Ramadan is a very unique experience. We do a lot less of the worldly things and a lot more of godly things than we normally do. … When you do those kinds of things together every day … it … bring[s] people together and it strengthens our beliefs and [our] family.
4.2. Dimension 2: Control, Discipline, and the Sacred Context of Ramadan
For this father, fasting is foundational and “brings you right to the ground.” Another father explained, “Ramadan has been prescribed to us where every Muslim is supposed to [fast]. It’s one of the five pillars of Islam.”[Ramadan] is a very, very good experience for us. I think what fasting does is [that] it makes everything else so insignificant. Seeing the family, the marriage, human life—[these are] really the most important things in the world, because everything else means nothing, really. [During the year] we do get carried away with worldly things, the houses, the cars, and all of that, I think—[but Ramadan] really brings you right to the ground and [gets you] grounded with God.
I think that religion affects our married life because in this point we can agree, and we spend some time without arguing. For example, when we both fast, we do our activities together. We break the fast together [and] we wake up midnight and eat before fasting. So we do these types of things together. … At this point we again agree and that’s how religion is making our life, going together and growing together.
4.3. Dimension 3: Intimacy, Unity, and Togetherness during Ramadan
In five brief sentences, Gulam uses the word “family” twice, “together” five times, and the family-referencing pronoun “we” eight times—a total of 15 allusions to family unity.Gulam9(Sunni husband): The thing that we really enjoy and cherish is the month of Ramadan because we do so many things together as a family. We wake up in the middle of the night. We sit together, we eat together, and we pray together. [We] go to [mosque] and bring food. And we get together as a family.
Muhammed’s reflections identify additional benefits of the Ramadan fast; the literal physical and emotional closeness of parent and child, father and daughter, and a resulting sense of paternal pride. Muhammad presents Ramadan in a way that seems to strengthen the familial circle.It is really the first day [of Ramadan] that gets me the most, for some reason. I do not know [why]. The first day of Ramadan [to me, means] more than … any other day of the year. The first day of Ramadan is important to me. … The first month that my daughter had to fast and at the end of the day, we were sitting next to each other, that was the best. I was proud of her.
Maryam, like others earlier, injects several (p. 10) collectivist terms (e.g., “altogether,” “we,” “together,” and “us”) into a few brief lines, emphasizing the reportedly pervasive unity inspired by Ramadan. For Maryam and her family, it seems that Ramadan is a sacred practice that integrates inclusion and a sense of control/structure that promotes intimacy in ways that reflect the optimal pattern of family interaction promoted by Doherty and colleagues.Maryam (Shia wife): I think my children, my husband, and I [inclusion: “we” = wife, husband, children]—altogether at the same time—we are trying to control ourselves and avoid doing some things. It is like we are playing a game together and when you are playing a game with other friends, you have fun with them. … We are breaking our fast together [control/structure: a set time, a set place, a set table] and we think, “Oh, all of us are playing a game, ahhh!” [The breaking of the fast] gets us closer to each other [intimacy: “fast together,” relational closeness].
5.1. Limitations and Directions for Future Research
5.2. Implications and Applications
Conflicts of Interest
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Consistent with usage among many Muslim scholars, and out of respect to our Muslim participants, when we refer to the founding prophet of Islam we include “PBUH” (Peace Be Upon Him).
Following Muhammad’s (PBUH) death in 632 CE, the Umma (Muslim nation) split into two major factions: Shia Muslims and Sunni Muslims. Both agree on the main Islamic pillars involving the reality and nature of Allah (God) and Mohammad’s prophetic calling and mission. Both branches pray five times a day (salat), fast during the daylight hours for one month every year (Ramadan), give money to the poor (zakat), and follow the same sacred book (The Quran). The two branches of Islam differ primarily in their views regarding the appropriate successor of Mohammed (for a more detailed discussion, see Alghafli et al. 2014b).
Families averaged about four children each, but only seven adolescent children were interviewed due to limitations related to Internal Review Board (IRB) approval.
Muslim participants frequently used the words Ramadan and fasting interchangeably.
All names are pseudonyms to protect anonymity.
There is a different (lesser) zakat that is made before Eid ul Fitr prayer. This is Zakt ul fitr and is usually the equivalent of the price of one meal in the area where the giver is living (religious leaders set the price in each region) or about $10 per each member of the household (including babies and elderly or people who aren’t obligated to fast). This is then distributed to the poor so that all may enjoy the breaking of the fast with a meal.
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Alghafli, Z.; Hatch, T.G.; Rose, A.H.; Abo-Zena, M.M.; Marks, L.D.; Dollahite, D.C. A Qualitative Study of Ramadan: A Month of Fasting, Family, and Faith. Religions 2019, 10, 123. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10020123
Alghafli Z, Hatch TG, Rose AH, Abo-Zena MM, Marks LD, Dollahite DC. A Qualitative Study of Ramadan: A Month of Fasting, Family, and Faith. Religions. 2019; 10(2):123. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10020123Chicago/Turabian Style
Alghafli, Zahra, Trevan G. Hatch, Andrew H. Rose, Mona M. Abo-Zena, Loren D. Marks, and David C. Dollahite. 2019. "A Qualitative Study of Ramadan: A Month of Fasting, Family, and Faith" Religions 10, no. 2: 123. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10020123