Eid ul-Fitr: Muslims rejoice in Feast of Breaking the Fast of Ramadan

Large stadium filled with people and pillars

Thousands of Indonesian Muslims gather for Eid ul Fitr prayer in Istiqlal Mosque, the largest mosque in Southeast Asia. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Comons

SUNSET SUNDAY and MONDAY, JULY 27-28: Eid Mubarak! The long days of Ramadan have ended to make way for a new and triumphant day. Muslim days begin at sunset on the previous evening—so the new Islamic month begins at sunset July 27 and the festivities of Eid al-Fitr, the Feast of the Breaking of the Fast, are expected to start on the morning of Monday July 28.

Remember the global diversity in this celebration by more than a billion Muslim men, women and children. First, English spellings of the Arabic phrase Eid ul-Fitr vary. Second, the start of this holiday may also vary, based on how each regional community around the world interprets the sighting of a new moon. Finally, the length of the Eid celebration varies—perhaps as short as a single day but usually lasting two days or even longer.

Throughout the entire month of Ramadan, Muslims spent each daylight hour without food or water, restraining their worldly desires in one of the most sacred traditions of Islam. Then, the first day of the month of Shawwal brings the Eid, and Muslims are actually not permitted to fast. Grand feasts ensue, prayer is offered in congregations and in some regions, festivities last for three days. Fireworks, carnivals, gift exchanges and visits from family and friends add to the joyous revelry of Eid al-Fitr.

This grand holiday originated with the Prophet Muhammad, in what a hadith (a saying of the Prophet) describes as a declaration that the Almighty had fixed this time of festivity for Muslim celebration.

The day’s events begin early on Eid al-Fitr—before sunrise—with prayer, bathing and the donning of new clothing. A small breakfast, often of dates, is consumed before adherents head to a nearby mosque, hall or even an open field in many parts of the world. (According to Islamic tradition, Eid’s prayer may only be offered as a part of the overall Muslim community, so huge crowds show up and many mosques around the world have lines of praying Muslims spilling out the doors onto sidewalks, parking lots or fields. Wikipedia has details.)

Also a part of these celebrations is the Zakat, a traditional donation to charity. Usually, sermons instruct the faithful to ask Allah’s forgiveness and to, in return, grant forgiveness to others. When prayers are over, Muslims visit friends and family, receive visitors in their homes and attend large, communal celebrations. (Learn more from IslamiCity.)

One of the largest temporary human migrations globally is the Eid al-Fitr homecoming of Indonesian Muslims, primarily workers who typically live far from their hometowns. The travelers seek forgiveness from parents, in-laws and elders, and all join in a feast together.

IN THE NEWS:
EID TRAINS, BRITISH MUSLIMS
AND A PHOTO SLIDESHOW

Pakistan Railways announced weeks ago that it would run special Eid trains for the Eid ul-Fitr holiday in anticipation of the vast number of pilgrims making the journey to their hometowns for the holiday of Eid ul-Fitr. Train schedules are revised in many Muslim countries.

The UK’s The Guardian recently asked Muslim bloggers to share their experiences of being a Muslim in Britain today—the best and worst aspects, how it has shaped their views of Britain as a whole, etc.—and the results are in this article.

Interested in what Eid al-Fitr looks like around the world? The Huffington Post has a photo slideshow.

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Categories: Muslim

Birthday of Haile Selassie: Rastafari celebrate with Nyabingi, gatherings

Time magazine cover with black-and-white photo of young Emperor Haile Selassie

When news of Haile Selassie’s coronation reached Jamaica—such as via this magazine cover from Time magazine—the fledgling Rastafari religion began. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

WEDNESDAY, JULY 23: Rastafari far and wide hold Nyabingi drumming sessions and revel in the birthday anniversary of their God incarnate, Haile Selassie.

Beginnings were meager for this renowned emperor-to-be, born in a mud hut in Ethiopia, in 1892. Selassie—originally named Tafari Makonnen—was a governor’s son, assuming the throne of Ethiopia in a complex struggle for succession. The nation’s leaders favored Tafari for the role of emperor—and, in 1930, he was crowned. Selassie would become Ethiopia’s last emperor, and today, he is viewed as the messiah of the Rastafari. (Biography.com has more on Selassie’s life.)

Years prior to Haile Selassie’s enthronement, American black-nationalist leader Marcus Garvey began preaching of a coming messiah who would lead the peoples of Africa, and the African diaspora, into freedom. When news of Selassie’s coronation reached Jamaica, it became evident to some that Selassie was this foretold of messiah. (Wikipedia has details.) Beyond the prophesies in the Book of Revelation and New Testament that Rastafari point to as proof of Selassie’s status, the emperor also could trace his lineage back to King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. Rastafari pointed to Selassie as the Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the Root of David and the King of Kings.

Selassie remained a lifelong Christian, but never reproached the Rastafari for their beliefs in him as the returned messiah. To this day, Rastafari rejoice on July 23, the anniversary of his birth.

IN THE NEWS:
REGGAE BAND MIXES
ETHIOPIAN AND ISRAELI CULTURES

The young musicians of Zvuloon Dub System performed recently in San Francisco, garnering press attention for their unique blend of sounds and cultures. Today, approximately 100,000 Falashas (Ethiopians of Jewish faith) live in Israel—and the band members of Zvuloon Dub System spread awareness of this group. The band’s music can be described as Ethiopian, Jamaican and Israeli, performed in both English and Amharic. Check out the easygoing style of Zvuloon Dub System on YouTube.

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Categories: AnniversaryRastafari

Laylat al-Qadr: Muslims revere Night of Destiny, Night of Power

Open book of the Quran in dim lighting

Many Muslims stay awake the entire night of Laylat al-Qadr, reading the Quran and reciting prayers. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

WEDNESDAY, JULY 23 (or one of the last 10, odd-numbered nights of Ramadan): The holiest night of Ramadan is met by Muslims across the globe with great reverence and joy. It’s Laylat al-Qadr, the Night of Destiny, the Night of Power or the Night of Decree.

Most Muslims regard Laylat al-Qadr as the anniversary of the night the Quran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad, and the Quran declares that observing this night is “better than one thousand months.” Though the Prophet Muhammad never specified the exact date of Laylat al-Qadr, Muslims are required to “search for it” among the last 10, odd-numbered nights of Ramadan.

Millions of adherents believe, generally, that Laylat al-Qadr occurs on the 27th day of Ramadan; however, many attempt to stay awake in prayer as much as possible during each of the odd-numbered nights during the final 10 of Ramadan, in case of error on the correct date. Those fortunate Muslims who can afford to do so spend the entirety of the final 10 days of Ramadan in the mosque, in the worship known as I’tikaf.

The traditional sayings of the Prophet assure the faithful that whoever prays in sincerity on Laylat al Qadr will be forgiven of sins.

Highly regarded is the belief that angels descend upon the earth on Laylat al-Qadr, due to the many blessings of the sacred night. (Read more from On Islam.) During the final 10 days of Ramadan, acts of charity and donations are increased—along with prayer and readings of the Quran. (Wikipedia has details.) Muslims teach that the complete revelation of the Quran to Muhammad took place over a total of 23 years; this transmission began in 610 CE at a cave near Mecca with this initial revelation of the holy text that is remembered on Laylat al-Qadr.

IN THE NEWS:
DATE CONSUMPTION INCREASING

Cover of Najah Bazzy Beauty of RamadanShopkeepers in Maharashtra, India, have been reporting increased sales in dates during Ramadan 2014, according to an article from Business Standard; the dates range in price from $.67 per pound to $33.32 per pound. Though dates have been popular for breaking fast during Ramadan for centuries, they now are available in flavors and from nations across the globe. The fasting of Ramadan will end on the first day of the next month—and with the grand festival of Eid ul-Fitr.

CHECK OUT ‘THE BEAUTY OF RAMADAN’! ReadTheSpirit Books publishes a complete guide to Ramadan, including the Night of Power, written by Najah Bazzy.

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Categories: Muslim

Joe Hill: Sing a new song on the centennial of a labor union activist

Black-and-white portrait of middle-aged man with a button-up shirt and hat askew

A portrait of Joe Hill. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

FRIDAY, JULY 18: One hundred years after the conviction of Joe Hill—the presence of the famed union activist, songwriter and miner is as strong as ever. It was said of Hill, “it takes more than guns to kill a man.” Though he was executed at a youthful 36, the legend of Joe Hill lives far beyond his years—in movements reflecting Hill’s sense of justice.

Often portrayed as a political martyr, Joe Hill secured his place in history when he gave his life in the name of his cause. Yet any true follower of Hill would starkly recognize the request left before his execution: “Don’t waste time mourning—organize.” In other words—remember him best by putting into action what he fought for. (Interest in Hill’s story was renewed in 2011, with a new biography—read reviews from the New York Times and Newcity.)

Hill’s immortal words have since been shortened into the union catchphrase, “Don’t Mourn, Organize.”

JOE HILL:
FROM SWEDEN TO AMERICA

A Swedish immigrant, Joel Hagglund came to America with high hopes, changing his name to Joseph Hillstrom and, later, Joe Hill.

He had high hopes, but the reality of American life soon hit: Hill had trouble finding work and wound up in the lower working class in New York, then later found himself living in a hobo jungle. Hill moved with the immigrant masses, bouncing from job to job. For that reason, few details exist about the majority of Hill’s life. Only when Hill became a Wobbly—a member of the Industrial Workers of the World—did he become renowned for the music and revolutionary spirit that inspired thousands of laborers. (Wikipedia has details.)

Hill’s labor tunes urged workers to quit thinking of themselves as a dispirited crowd of immigrants—and, instead, to take heart and show confidence through singing and organized efforts to improve their lot in life. As one writer commented, during a strike, “There was in it a peculiar, intense, vital spirit, a religious spirit if you will—that I never felt before in any strike.” Nationalities and differing languages came together to sing Hill’s tunes in unison. Even if jailed for their protests, the workers would sing piercingly until their release.

Brought up in the Lutheran Church, Hill borrowed the tunes for many of his labor songs from popular hymns.

A JURY AND EXECUTION IN SALT LAKE CITY

In January of 1914, during a labor action involving Hill, a Salt Lake City shopkeeper and his son were killed in their store. There was no clear evidence of a connection, but Hill was suspected in the crime because he had suffered a gunshot wound the same night. Though evidence has since come forth that Hill had been engaged in conflict elsewhere, in a fight over his love, the Utah jury found him guilty of the murders in the store. Uproar from around the world erupted, with President Woodrow Wilson writing twice to Utah’s governor—and unions as distant as Australia protesting his conviction. Yet Hill refused to give an alibi or release the name of his sweetheart, and he was executed by a firing squad on November 19, 1915.

Interested in memorializing the mission of Joe Hill? Check out the Facebook page dedicated to Joe Hill’s Centennial Celebration, on September 5, 2015.

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Categories: Anniversary

St. Swithun and St. Vladimir: Christian Church marks two saints’ days

Interior of vast cathedral, high ceiling with gold and paintings

The interior of St. Volodymr (St. Vladimir) Cathedral, in Russia. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

TUESDAY, JULY 15: Two saints of the Christian Church are recognized in the West today: it’s the feast of legendary St. Swithun, and the famed Russian, St. Vladimir. (St. Swithun in recognized in Wales on July 2.)

Born just 150 years apart, the two saints led dramatically different lives. Swithun, born in Wessex, England, became Patron Saint of Winchester Cathedral and is now a renowned weather legend primarily within England. Vladimir, once renowned for savagery and corruption, made a dramatic conversion to Christianity and spread the religion throughout Russia.

ST. SWITHUN:
THE SAINT BEHIND THE WEATHER

Born c. 800 CE, Swithun was educated at Winchester and ordained in the same monastery; he became chaplain to King Egbert, and tutored the son who would see him become an Anglo-Saxon bishop at Winchester. Swithun, known for his humility and assistance to the poor, built and restored several churches during his lifetime. (Wikipedia has details.) Legend has it that if it rains on Swithun’s feast day, 40 days of rain will ensue; this legend, though steeped in English history, doesn’t hold much water among scientists.

Per his request, Swithun was buried out of doors, upon his death in 862 CE. In 971, Swithun’s body was moved to an indoor shrine in the Old Minster at Winchester.

ST. VLADIMIR:
RUSSIAN TYRANT TO DEVOUT CHRISTIAN

Vladimir Sviatoslavich the Great, born illegitimately to a prince of modern-day Russia, is recognized in both the East and West today. The grandson of St. Olga and son of a mistress, Vladimir was born in 956 CE; in time, Vladimir was given Novgorod by his father, to rule. Shortly after his father’s death, however, Vladimir was forced to flee for his life, as his murderous half-brother took over Novgorod. (Read more from Catholic Online.)

Unwilling to accept defeat, Vladimir gathered an army and returned to Novgorod to slay his brother. He emerged victorious, taking position as sole ruler of Russia. Vladimir expanded his kingdom with extensive bloodshed and an utter lack of morality, until political motives and curiosity led him from Slavic paganism to Christianity. Vladimir converted to Christianity in 988, married a close relative of Eastern Emperor Basil II, reformed his life and began erecting churches across Kiev. (Read more from Wikipedia.) Christian schools and churches were constructed, and the entire Kievan Rus was converted to Christianity.

Following his death, Vladimir’s body was venerated as a relic. Ukrainian and Russian folk ballads still tell his tale, and churches bear his name.

IN THE NEWS:
BOSTON GLOBE TO LAUNCH POPE FRANCIS WEBSITE

With the immense popularity of the Catholic Church’s current pope, a new website soon will be launched by the Boston Globe, report several news sources. The idea was sparked following the recent hire of a writer from the National Catholic Reporter—whose stories have found a growing audience in the Globe. The website will contain news and analyses of Pope Francis and the entire Catholic Church.

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Categories: Christian

Obon: Japanese communities dance, feast and welcome ancestors’ spirits

Japanese women dancing in traditional kimonos of white and pastel colors

Obon Matsuri in Concord, California, 2009. Photo by Todd Fong, courtesy of Flickr

SUNDAY, JULY 13: Halloween in July? Americans may find many similar elements in the Japanese festival of Obon. Summer brings the month-long festival of the dead across Japan and in Japanese communities worldwide, for the beloved season known as Obon.

Obon—also known as Bon—has been observed in Japan for more than 500 years, derived from a Japanese Buddhist custom to honor the spirits of one’s ancestors. The Buddhist-Confucian holiday has now become popular for family reunions, visiting and cleaning ancestors’ graves, and inviting ancestors into the home. Most regions vary in their unique Bon-Odori dance, however: the traditional dance of Obon, born from the story of a Buddhist monk, often incorporates movements meant to imitate a region’s customs, traditions and people. (Get a participant’s perspective on Obon dancing in this article, from Huffington Post. Or, view a schedule of Bon dances and practices at Japanese-City.com.)

The festival of Obon lasts just three days—but the starting date for this festival varies widely around the world. Often, this is referred to as The Obon Season to accommodate all of the regional diversity. When Japan began using the Gregorian calendar instead of the lunar calendar, the localities of Japan interpreted the date of Obon differently. Today, eastern Japan—including Tokyo—celebrates Obon in mid-July; other regions of Japan observe Hachigatsu Bon, or Bon in August; still others mark Kyu Bon, or Old Bon, which falls on the 15th day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar, and so varies each year.

No matter the locality, light, cotton kimonos—usually in white or pastel palettes—can be spotted at almost every Obon festival. Carnivals, rides and games are popular, as is Japanese food—most commonly, sushi, rice, teriyaki chicken and sweets. (This article, from LA Weekly, reviews Obon festivals from a foodie POV.)

The festival ends with Toro Nagashi, the floating of lanterns. Paper lanterns are floated down rivers and other bodies of water, signaling the ancestors’ spirits to return to the world of the dead. Fireworks ensue. (Make your own lantern with instructions from this photographic tutorial.)

OBON, ULLAMBANA
AND THE BUDDHIST MONK                          

The origins of Obon are with Ullambana (Sanskrit for “hanging upside down”). When a disciple of Buddha used his supernatural powers to look upon his deceased mother, he saw that she had fallen into the Realm of Hungry Ghosts and was suffering greatly. (Wikipedia has details.) The monk approached Buddha, asking how he could free his mother, and was instructed to make offerings to Buddhist monks. The disciple obeyed, saw his mother’s release, and danced for joy. This joyful dance was the first Bon Odori. (Learn more from the Shingon Buddhist International Institute.)

Obon 2014: The peak travel season for Obon 2014 is expected to take place between August 9 and August 17.

(Originally published at www.ReadTheSpirit.com, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

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Categories: International Observances

Asalha Puja Day: Buddhists celebrate first sermon, four truths and Triple Gem

Monk in orange wrap sits on ledge overlooking scenic valleys; monk's eyes are closed in meditation

A Buddhist meditates. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

FRIDAY, JULY 11 and SATURDAY, JULY 12 and SUNDAY, JULY 13: A monumental event in Buddhist history is celebrated today, on the full moon day of the eighth lunar month. (Specific date varies by region and country.) Theravada Buddhists, in particular, hold a grand festival known as Asalha Puja or Dharma Day, in memory of Buddha’s first sermon following enlightenment.

Buddha delivered his first discourse on the full moon day of the eighth lunar month, in Deer Park: calculations configure that Buddha reached enlightenment in the sixth lunar month, embarked on a two-month journey, and launched his first discourse in the eighth lunar month. More prominently, the first discourse unofficially established the religion that would become Buddhism. The lessons relayed to a small group of followers were the first structured teachings given after Buddha’s enlightenment, forming the core of all his discourses to come. (Learn more from Buddha Mind.) In this teaching, Buddha unveiled the four noble truths and the Triple Gem—that is, the Buddha, his teachings and his disciples. This crucial sermon is referred to as “setting into motion the wheel of the dharma.”

THE FIRST SERMON:
THE FOUR NOBLE TRUTHS

What, exactly, was taught at Buddha’s first discourse? Primarily, the four noble truths: there is suffering (dukka); suffering is caused by craving (tanha); there is a state (nirvana) beyond suffering and craving; and the way to nirvana is via the eightfold path. Today, almost every Buddhist centers his or her practices and meditations around these four noble truths. Celebrants often recognize Asalha Puja with donations and offerings to monks and temples; the monks lead chants, candlelit processions and meditations. (Wikipedia has details.)

Following the Buddha’s sermon in Deer Park, one of the attendees professed an understanding of the truths and asked to be made a disciple. Buddha accepted the man as a disciple, and performed a simple ordination that made him the first Buddhist monk.

THE RAINS RETREAT
AND BUDDHIST “LENT”

Following the festivities of Asalha Puja, the Asian monsoon season begins, and Buddhist monks and nuns begin the three-month rains retreat. For three months, while the countryside flourishes and rains feed fledgling plants and insects, monks and nuns refrain from unnecessary travel, for fear of stepping on and accidentally killing the new life. The season of rain has since become associated with self-restraint, and is sometimes referred to as “Buddhist Lent”.

NEWS: THAILAND WELCOMES TOURISTS,
OFFICIALS PROMOTE THAI-CAMBODIAN FRIENDSHIP

The Tourism Authority of Thailand is actively welcoming visitors to several traditional sites and festivals, among them, the famed Lat Chado Market, which sees throngs of tourists on Asalha Puja Day. (Read more from eTN Global Travel Industry News.)  Meanwhile, officials are seeking to strengthen the Buddhist relationship between Thailand and Cambodia with a joint Sangha and Buddhist Lent Week. (National News Bureau of Thailand has the story.) The prominent Candle Festival Parade, held July 9-12, is expected to draw monks from 87 Thai-Cambodian temples.

(Originally published at www.ReadTheSpirit.com, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

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Categories: Buddhist