That’s the phrase to greet Muslim neighbors and colleagues. The word Mubarak (the same as the name of Egypt’s former president) means “Blessed,” so the greeting “Ramadan Mubarak” conveys the wish, “Have a Blessed Ramadan!”
Ramadan 2012 is different!
That’s largely due to the Olympic games coinciding for the first time with Ramadan. Because more than 1 billion people around the world are Muslim, that means many athletes traveling to London will have to adapt for the fasting month. Ramadan rarely plays a positive role in global headline news distributed in non-Muslim countries. This year, it will, thanks to the Olympics.
Today, ReadTheSpirit recommends that readers consider ordering a copy of “The Beauty of Ramadan,” by Najah Bazzy, a nationally known cross-cultural nurse and human-rights activist. Najah’s book is packed with fascinating information about the religious and also the health concerns surrounding Ramadan. Even if you are not a Muslim, this information is vital to educators, public-safety professionals, medical personnel and community leaders.
WHEN DOES RAMADAN BEGIN IN 2012?
Fast begins in daylight hours, Friday July 20 or Saturday July 21.
The actual beginning of the fast depends on many factors: Does one follow the lunar cycles with scientific instruments? Or does one start the fast only with eye-sight confirmation of the moon? What do leading imams in your region decide for the larger community? Is there an official schedule for your nation? News media reports across the Middle East and Asia are pointing toward July 21 for some regions, based on reporting by the Islamic Crescents’ Observation Project. (On the Project’s website, you can find elaborate astronomical charts.)
Across most of the U.S., the first fast is set for July 20: The Fiqh Council of North America is led by Muslim authorities across the U.S. from a wide range of ethnic groups and both the Sunni and Shi’a sects. The Council accepts calculation of the new crescent moon, marking Ramadan, by using scientific instruments. So, the Fiqh Council declares for the U.S.: “The first day of Ramadan is Friday, July 20, insha’Allah.” (That final phrase means, “God willing.”) Then, the fasting month ends with a huge celebration (the “Eid u-Fitr”), marked by a new lunar crescent that starts a new month. The Fiqh Council declares: “Eid ul-Fitr is Sunday, August 19, insha’Allah.”
MYTH: DURING RAMADAN, MUSLIMS EAT LESS
The world’s billion-plus Muslims certainly eat and drink less during daylight hours, but during the evenings—and, in some cultures and communities, all night long—Muslims enjoy a festive Thanksgiving-like relationship with their food and drink. This is a time of family gatherings; friends spend time together at mosques and in cafes; family matriarchs pull out all the stops in making favorite dishes.
How much extra food? The oldest English-language newspaper in the Middle East, the Egyptian Gazatte, reports that Egyptians are anxious about food prices as each Ramadan rolls around. A July 4 Gazette report explained to readers: “People eat 70 per cent more during Ramadan, according to a study conducted by the Chamber of Foodstuffs. Consumption of sugar and pastry increases even by 100 per cent, meat and poultry by 50 per cent and diary products by 60 per cent. The consumption of rice and wheat increases only by 25 per cent.”
Price gouging and price supports? In such a month, price gouging can be a problem and one UAE news publication reports: “Ministry of Economy’s office in the Emirates has intensified price checks to ensure that all outlets, including super markets, groceries, salons and maintenance service shops, are not increasing prices.” Recognizing the huge importance of Ramadan, the government of Pakistan actually provides national subsidies to needy families through thousands of regional food stores. The program provides bundles of typical foods families need to provide night-time meals, bought in mass quantities by the government, bundled into “Ramadan Packs,” then sold at a deep discount to low-income families.
RAMADAN AND THE OLYMPICS: POSITIVE NEWS FROM THE UK
The Muslim calendar is based on lunar cycles. So, observances like Ramadan “move forward” through the world’s standard calendar. In 2011, Ramadan was entirely in August. In 2012, the start of fasting moves into mid-July and that’s a crisis for Muslim athletes competing in the 2012 Olympics.
In their Ramadan reporting, the Times of India and Reuters are citing a university study that, in a typical summer soccer match, an athlete loses 2 liters of body fluids. Fasting under such conditions seems impossible—but Islam traditionally exempts travelers from fasting as well as anyone for whom fasting poses a health risk. Olympic competitors might claim either exemption; and Muslim scholars are suggesting a range of other ideas from “making up” the fast later to donating funds for feeding hungry families.
Across the UK, non-Muslims are suddenly well aware of Ramadan in a positive way. Muslim athletes suddenly are talking about the depth of their faith—and their commitment to peacemaking and helping the poor during Ramadan. And there’s more! Muslim organizations in areas around the Olympic venues are welcoming both Muslim and non-Muslim visitors for Iftars (breaking-the-fast dinners after the sun sets). The UK grocery giant Tesco has set up a Ramadan portal within its website, already declaring: “Ramadan Mubarak.” Among the featured Tesco items are dates, traditionally the first bite each night as the fast is broken.
Also: Read the News Release on Ramadan posted within the official 2012 London Olympics website.
RAMADAN: A GREAT TIME FOR VISITING
Red-Carpet Hospitality in the UK: Given the global focus on London during Ramadan, various UK nonprofits and religious groups have established Iftar 2012, a program to organize and publicize a wide array of welcoming events. The information is centered on the Iftar 2012 website, a colorful collection of newsy posts and information.
Iftar 2012 describes its mission this way: “The British Muslim community invites you and your Olympic team to celebrate a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to join them in a Ramadan fast-breaking meal during the London 2012 Olympic Games. Never before has the Olympics in the modern era coincided with the Islamic calendar month of Ramadan. Iftar 2012 is hoping to deliver the Ramadan experience with the help and support of Mosques, Islamic centers, community groups during the 2012 Olympics.” In many places on the website, the organization emphasizes that this is open to “Muslims and non-Muslims, people of all colors and races, people of faith and no faith.”
Hospitality across the United States: While Iftar 2012 in the UK already had generated a lot of news coverage, the same hospitality is shown by Muslim communities across the U.S. Generally, non-Muslims are welcome to visit mosques on most nights of Ramadan. It’s best to visit with a Muslim friend or to call ahead to ensure that someone from the mosque will orient you to the evening’s program. Most American Muslim centers do not provide nightly Iftar meals; that’s not typically a part of the evening gatherings for prayer and inspirational talks. However, most American Muslim communities do host occasional Iftars for friends and visitors. Call a local mosque or Muslim center and ask about local plans in your part of the U.S.
SERMON WELCOMING RAMADAN BY PROPHET MUHAMMAD (PBUH)
The Prophet’s sermon on Ramadan is one of the world’s most famous Muslim texts. Countless versions rendered in English are floating around the Internet, some of them more difficult to understand than others. For her book, The Beauty of Ramdan, Najah Bazzy consulted Muslim scholars and, then, gives readers this formal and yet accurate paraphrase in English. Note on parenthetical terms: The letters PBUH are a way for Muslim writers to show respect for the Prophets in their religious tradition, including Moses and Jesus. They stand for “Peace Be Upon Him.” In most English translations of Muslim texts in Arabic, parentheses are used to indicate words that go further than translation to add clarity to the otherwise unwritten context of a line.
O People! The month of God (Ramadan) has approached you with His mercy and blessings. This is the month that is the best of all months in the estimation of God. Its days are the best among the days; its nights are the best among the nights. Its hours are the best among the hours.
This is a month in which He has invited you. You have been, in this month, selected as the recipients of the honors of God, the Merciful. In this holy month, when you breathe, it has the heavenly reward of the praise of God on rosary beads (tasbeeh), and your sleep has the reward of worship.
Your good deeds are accepted in this month. So are your invocations. Therefore, you must invoke your Lord, in right earnest, with hearts that are free from sins and evils, that God may bless you. Observe fast, in this month, and recite the Holy Quran.
Verily! The person who may not receive the mercy and benevolence of God in this month must be very unfortunate having an end as bad (in the Hereafter). While fasting, remember the hunger and thirst of tomorrow in eternity. Give alms to the poor and the needy. Pay respect to your elders.
Have pity on those younger than you and be kind towards your relatives and kinsmen. Guard your tongues against unworthy words, and your eyes from such scenes that are not worth seeing (forbidden) and your ears from such sounds that should not be heard by you.
Be kind to orphans so that if your children become orphans they also may be treated with kindness. Do invoke God that He may forgive your sins. do raise your hands at the time of Salat (Prayers), as it is the best time for asking His mercy. When we invoke at such times, we are answered by Him; when we call Him, He responds; and when we ask for anything, it is accepted by Him.
O People! You have made your conscience the slave of your desires; make it free by invoking Him for repentance and forgiveness. Your back is breaking under the heavy load of your sins, so prostrate before Him for long inervals and lighten your load.
Do understand fully well that God has promised in the name of His Majesty and Honor that He wil lnot take to task such people who fast and offer prayers in this month and perform prostration, and will guard their bodies against the punishment on the Day of Judgment.
O People! If anybody amongst you arranges for the Iftar (food for the ending of the fast) of any believer, then God will give you a reward as if you have set free a slave. He will forgive your minor sins.
Then the companions of Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “But everybody amongst us does not have the means to do so?”
Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) told them: Keep yourself away form God’s wrath, by inviting for Iftar, though it may consist of only half a date or simply with water if you have nothing else. O People! Anybody who may cultivate good manners in this month wil walk over the bridge to the next life with ease, though his feet may be shaking.
Anybody who in this month may take light work from his servants (male or female), God will make easy his accounting on the Day of Judgment.
Anybody who covers the faults of other sin this month, God will cover his faults in this life and in eternity. Anybody who respects and treats an orphan with kindness in this month, God shall look at him with dignity in the Hereafter. Anybody who treats well his kinsmen, in this month, God will bestow His mercy on him, while anybody who mistreats his kinsmen in this month, God will keep him away from His mercy.
Whoever offers a recommended prayer in this month, God will give him freedom from Hell. Whosoever offers one obligatory prayer in this month, for him the Angels will write the rewards of 70 such prayers, which were offered by him in any other month.
Whosoever recites repeatedly Peace and blessings upon me, God will keep the scales of his good deeds heavy, (promising heaven).
READ MORE ABOUT MUSLIM LIFE AND RAMADAN
More about Ramadan in our Holidays column. Writer Stephanie Fenton follows Holidays and Festivals around the world. Her column already has additional details about the start of Ramadan. You may also want to bookmark the URL to her column http://www.readthespirit.com/religious-holidays-festivals/ so that you can follow upcoming stories about individual holidays that are marked within the month of Ramadan—whch will be published as Stephanie files those stories.
Read an interview with Dr. John Esposito, widely regarded as a top English-language scholar on Islam. ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm conducted this interview with Esposito a couple of years ago, but most of the scholar’s conclusions are relevant to this day.
Athlete’s point of view: Female Tae Kwan Do instructor Fidaa Bazzi talks about the difficult challenge of following the Ramadan fast as an athlete and college student in the U.S.
Mom’s point of view: Cooking during Ramadan is quite an effort, explains Zahia Hassen.
Hearing the Quran recited during Ramadan is one of the most beautiful and memorable experiences for Muslims around the world. Radwan Almadrahi talks about this experience.
LEARN MORE ABOUT ‘THE BEAUTY OF RAMADAN,’ a complete book about this season by cross-cultural nurse Najah Bazzy. This book not only explains the month of fasting in detail, but also contains information that is helpful to educators, health care professionals and community leaders.
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Originally published at www.ReadTheSpirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.