What does the word ‘Ramadan’ mean?

Jazib Mehmood, Student Jamia Ahmadiyya International Ghana
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Artur Kornakov | Unsplash

The word “Ramadan” is a familiar one. Even if you are not a Muslim, you know what it means to Muslims – the month of fasting and worship. And as Ramadan starts this year, you will see the word everywhere – online and all around you. But what does it mean?

In this short piece, some interesting meanings of the word are discussed. You will find that many of the meanings mentioned here have a direct connection to the month itself, and can teach us something about the philosophy of fasting during the month of Ramadan.

The word Ramadan is from ramadun, which means scorching heat, usually from the sun. (Lisan Al-Arab [Arabic], 1993, Dar-e-Saadir, Vol. 7, p. 160)

Before Islam, it was called by many names, the most popular being Natiq. It is said that the name Ramadan came into use about 150 years before the advent of the Holy Prophetsa. It was during the time of Kilab Bin Marrah, an ancestor of the Holy Prophetsa, that the name Ramadan was permanently adopted as the name for the ninth month of the lunar calendar. (Global Arabic Encyclopaedia [Arabic], 1999, Vol. 11, p. 285)

Many scholars say that Islamic fasting falls during Ramadan because of what it means: hot and scorching weather. (As-Sahah Taj-ul-Lughat Wa Sahah-ul-Arabiya [Arabic], Darul ‘Ilm Lil Malayeen, Vol. 3, p. 1081; Jumharat-ul-Lughat [Arabic], Darul ‘Ilm Lil Malayeen, 1st ed., Vol. 2, p. 751)

However, Ramadan being in the lunar calendar, this theory does not seem to hold – as it falls at different times annually. Furthermore, the Holy Prophetsa is reported to have said that this month of fasting is called Ramadan, or it is observed during Ramadan, because worship and devotion in this month ‘burn’ away the traces of sin in man. The word is therefore significant. (Fath Al-Qadeer [Arabic], 1993, Vol. 1)

The Promised Messiahas has also explained the meaning of the word. On one occasion, he said:

“The Arabic word ramadun refers to the heat of the sun. In Ramadan, a person restrains themselves from food and drink, and all other physical pleasures. Further, an individual develops within themselves a burning passion and fervour to fulfil the commandments of Allah Almighty. Therefore, spiritual and physical warmth and heat constitute the Arabic word known in dual form as ramadan.” (Malfuzat [English], Vol. 1, p. 217)

Incidentally, there is also a deep wisdom behind following a lunar calendar for fasting. Some people are unable to fast in extreme weather conditions, while others are constrained by specific schedules, which might prevent them from fasting. Therefore, by using the lunar calendar, Ramadan can fall in all seasons throughout one’s life. This wisdom also applies to other major celebrations in Islam, like Hajj [pilgrimage to Mecca]. (Tafsir-e-Kabir [Urdu], 2023, Vol. 3, p. 501)

Explaining this deep philosophy, Khalifatul Masih IVrh states:

“There is one full month in every year in which fasting is prescribed for Muslims all over the world. As the month is a lunar month, so it keeps changing around the year in relation to the solar months. This creates a universal balance for the worshippers.

“Sometimes the fasting in the winter months is easy as far as the days go, in comparison to the long winter nights, while during the summer months, the days become long and exacting. As the lunar months keep rotating around the year, so Muslims in all parts of the world have some periods of easy fasting and some of arduous fasting.” (An Elementary Study of Islam, p. 43)

Therefore, it was when Islam came that this month and the word Ramadan took on many beautiful, subtle meanings. Hazrat Mirza Nasir Ahmad, Khalifatul Masih IIIrh has explained several meanings of the word in his Friday Sermons. In one instance, Huzoorrh gave two meanings of the word ramada; “he burnt it”, and “he hurt him.” He states:

“When we consider these two meanings, we come to know that they are related to the month of Ramadan. Those who deny Islam or enter Islam but have spiritual weakness within them consider this month to be a month of sorrow and pain, hunger and thirst, and insomnia. They do not see any benefit in it nor do they take any part in its blessings. However, the pious and faithful servants of God Almighty do not consider this month’s privation a hardship.” (Khutbat-e-Nasir [Urdu], Vol. 1, pp. 54–55)

Giving another meaning, Huzoorrh states that the word also contains within it the meaning of a hunter searching for prey in extreme heat. As such, Huzoorrh states:

“A believing servant of Allah Almighty goes out in search of what he wants, regardless of hunger and thirst and other hardships. Intensity of heat or pain, or hunger and thirst, or insomnia, etc., cannot stand in his way. And the meaning of what he seeks can be understood from the very word itself. […]

“Therefore, another meaning of Ramadan in Arabic is […] the rain that comes down from the sky after the intensity of heat and before autumn. When it descends, the earth is completely heated and scorched, but when it rains, it removes that heat, eliminates this discomfort and creates a state of calm. From this, it became clear that in the month of Ramadan, what a believing servant of Allah goes out in search of, like a fanatical hunter, without caring about hunger and thirst and other afflictions, is the rain of Allah’s mercy.” (Ibid.)

Keeping all these meanings in mind, the objectives of this blessed month also become clearer. May Allah make this month a source of blessings for us all. Amin.

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