SUNSET SATURDAY, JUNE 5: As a crescent moon appears and is spotted across the globe, the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims—or, 23 percent of the global population—begin the month of Ramadan. (A note: Starting dates vary by location and by method of calculation.) As the Islamic calendar is lunar, the beginning and end of Ramadan is based on a crescent moon sighting that is typically visible 1-2 days after the astronomical new moon. The end of Ramadan—the ninth month of the Islamic calendar—is met with Eid al-Fitr, a festival of the breaking of the fast. Eid al-Fitr marks the beginning of the next lunar month, Shawwal, and a time of great feasting. This year, Ramadan ends on the evening of Tuesday, July 5.
American Muslims and July 4th: This year, Ramadan and the American Independence Day will overlap, meaning that any typical holiday fare—such as food cooked on the grill—will have to be held off until after sunset.
Fasting hours reach peak in 2016: As Ramadan moves slowly around the Gregorian calendar, 2016 will cover some of the “longest” days of the year in the Northern Hemisphere—which, for observant Muslims, equates to more hours of daytime fasting. This year, Ramadan will incorporate the summer solstice, on June 2o—the “longest” day of the year.
RAMADAN: STRICT FASTING, RELIEVED BY THE IFTAR
Fasting is a tradition in nearly all of the world’s great faiths—but the word “fasting” can refer to many different practices. In some traditions, giving up meat or other kinds of foods is a fast. In other groups, a fast may be the elimination of a single meal—or may refer to avoiding food, but not liquids.
Muslims observe the month of Ramadan with a strict sunrise-to-sunset fast, which means that nothing passes the lips during those hours. All food and drink (including water) is prohibited. Meanwhile, prayer is increased, as is reading from the Quran. According to Muslim belief, the first revelation of the Quran to Muhammad occurred during Ramadan, and as such, observance of the month is one of the Five Pillars of Islam. Many Muslim communities around the world invite special vocal interpreters of the Quran to come to mosques and chant the sacred text, night after night, until the entire holy book is completed.
During the month of Ramadan, Muslims partake in a pre-dawn meal known as the Suhoor, and do not return to eating until after sunset. Three dates customarily break the fast each day, and an iftar meal is often an occasion for social gatherings, large feasts and buffet-style hosting. Occasionally, Muslims describe the night-time iftar tradition as “like a series of Thanksgiving dinners,” because friends and family often visit each other during the nights of Ramadan—and, often, favorite dishes are prepared for these feasts.
ZAKAT GIVING AND THE ‘NIGHT OF POWER’
In addition to fasting, Muslims donate to charity during Ramadan. Charity, known as zakat, or “the poor-rate,” is an obligatory action.
Laylat al-Qadr, or the “night of power,” is considered the holiest night of the year and commemorates the night the first revelation of the Quran was sent to Muhammad. Laylat al-Qadr is believed to have taken place on an odd-numbered night during the last 10 days of Ramadan, and those who are able to pray as often as possible during these days in a practice known as I’tikaf.
Do you know Muslim friends, neighbors or co-workers? Michigan State University’s Joe Grimm reports on an easy and friendly way to reach out during Ramadan.
RAMADAN NEWS 2016
Working hours reduced by two hours during Ramadan: For private sector employees in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), working hours during Ramadan will be 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., The National recently reported. School hours will also be shortened, as Ramadan overlaps with some of the final days of the 2016 academic calendar.
Interfaith iftars: Interfaith Jewish seders have been steadily gaining popularity, but a Minnesota-based Episcopal priest is organizing efforts to expand that interfaith friendliness to Muslims, too—with a program that raises awareness of the truths about Islam and welcomes non-Muslims to iftar meals during Ramadan. Last year, close to 1,000 non-Muslims participated in the iftars in Minnesota, and across the country, similar programs are being initiated.