Ramadan: Muslims fast during ‘longest days’ of the calendar year

Woman stands below grand ceiling, hands raised, looking at ceiling, in dress and headscarf

A Muslim woman offers a Ramadan prayer. Photo by Thamer Al-Hassan, courtesy of Flickr

SUNSET FRIDAY, MAY 26: As a crescent moon appears and is spotted around the globe, the world’s 1.8 billion Muslims—nearly a quarter of Earth’s population—begin the month of Ramadan. (Note: Starting dates in communities around the world may vary by location and by method of calculation.)

Because 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 is a time of great feasting and family celebrations. The majority of our readers live in North America—and, this year, the Islamic Society of North America, says the Eid will begin on Sunday June 25.

As Ramadan moves slowly around the Gregorian calendar, 2017 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 20—the “longest” day of the year for those living in the North.


This spring, the Pew Research Center’s analysis of global religious trends reports that—based on worldwide patterns of childbirth—Islam is likely to emerge as the world’s most rapidly growing religion in the years ahead. You can download the complete report here in PDF format. That Pew report is the source of our reference above to 1.8 billion as the world’s current Muslim population. Christianity remains the world’s largest religion with 2.3 billion adherents, Pew reports.


The Beauty of Ramadan by Najah Bazzy front cover (1)

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

Najah Bazzy, author of The Beauty of Ramadanreminds readers in her opening pages that Ramadan is about far more than denial of food and water during daylight hours. Bazzy, a nationally known expert on cross-cultural healthcare, covers many of the health-related issues in her book. But she calls on a traditional text credited to the Prophet Muhammad for the deeper meaning of this special month. In addition to fasting, prayer and Quran study:

Give alms to the poor and the needy. Pay respect to your elders. Have pity on those younger than you and be kind toward your relatives and kinsmen. Guard your tongues against unworthy words, and your eyes from such scenes that are forbidden and your ears from such sounds as should not be heard. Be kind to orphans.

Bazzy’s book explains much more about the rich experience of this month for Muslim families. It also clearly explains a lot about the month’s practices, making the book helpful for educators, anyone in public service and neighbors or co-workers with Muslim friends.


Fasting is a tradition in nearly all of the world’s great faiths—but the word “fasting” can refer to many different forms of this ancient tradition. 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 it may refer to avoiding food, but not liquids.

Three dates in wooden bowl

Three dates are traditionally consumed at the end of each day’s fast during Ramadan. Photo courtesy of YouTube

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—with the iftar.

Three dates customarily break the fast each day of Ramadan, 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 favorite dishes frequently are prepared for these feasts.

A lantern with colored glass on each side, reflecting colors onto walls around it

A Ramadan lantern. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


In addition to fasting, Muslims donate to charity during Ramadan. Charity, known as zakat, sometimes translated as “the poor-rate,” is an obligatory practice.

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. Around the Islamic world, traditions vary for identifying the date of Laylat al-Qadr—though it is generally believed to fall on one of the odd-numbered nights of the last 10 days of Ramadan.

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.





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Hajj: Muslims gather from around the world in Mecca for holy rituals

Crowds gathered around black building with white and gold

Photo by Al Jazeera English, courtesy of Flickr

SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 10: In the wake of last year’s Hajj stampede, Saudi Arabia is taking extra measures to safeguard Hajj 2016, as millions of Muslim pilgrims have been arriving in Mecca. (This 2015 link to the New York Times shows a fascinating overview of how the 2015 tragedy unfolded; but the estimate of fatalities in that Times presentation was far lower than later reports, which placed the death toll at more than 2,000 men and women.)


In Saudi Arabia this year, experts announced no official sighting of a crescent moon was possible. Eventually, the Saudi Arabian courts got involved in determining this year’s schedule for the Hajj. Reports from Al Jazeera and other news services with staff on the ground began reporting on September 1 that the originally planned start date for the Hajj has now been moved from September 9 to 10. As a result, the Internet displays a confusing array of dates. The huge celebration, Eid al-Adha now will fall on September 12 this year.


More than a billion Muslims around the world look to the Hajj, each year, even though only about 2 million pilgrims actually travel to Mecca.

NOTE: As a reporter with ReadTheSpirit, I’m also a member of the International Association of Religion Journalists. Want to follow a Muslim journalist making the Hajj this year? Check out the Twitter feed of Yazeed Kalaldien. Yazeed is providing a fascinating, real-time glimpse into the people and places he encounters.

Why do Muslims around the world feel such a bond to the pilgrims who make this journey each year?

As one of the five pillars of Islam, Hajj is a religious duty that must be undertaken by every adult Muslim at least once in his or her lifetime (if it is manageable physically, mentally and financially); despite the frequently used phrase “religious duty,” Muslims regard Hajj as an experience to be treasured. Muslims believe that the ritual of a pilgrimage to Mecca stretches back centuries before the advent of Islam—to the time of Ibrahim (Abraham)—yet it was the Muslim Prophet Muhammad who cemented the rituals of Hajj, in the seventh century. The uniform method of performing the rituals of Hajj is meant to demonstrate both the solidarity of the Muslim people and their submission to God.

Crowd of people with white architecture in background

Pilgrims attending Hajj. Photo by Bilal Randeree, courtesy of Flickr


Islamic tradition tells that in approximately 2000 BCE, Abraham was ordered by God to leave his wife, Hagar, and his son, Ishmael, alone in the desert of Mecca while he traveled to Canaan. After Abraham left, her food and water quickly ran out, so Hagar ran back and forth between the hills of Safa and Marwa seven times. Exhausted, Hagar laid Ishmael down on the sand and begged God for help. Miraculously, a well sprang up at the baby’s feet, and that well—the Zamzam Well—continues to provide ample water to Hajj pilgrims today.

Later, according to Muslim tradition, Abraham was commanded to build the Kaaba, so that people could perform pilgrimage there. It is believed that the Archangel Gabriel brought the Black Stone from heaven to be attached to the Kaaba; today, the Black Stone marks the beginning and ending point of each circle a pilgrim makes as he circulates the Kaaba during Hajj.


Muslims describe the era of pre-Islamic Arabia as jahiliyyah, a time of what Muslims regard as barbaric practices when the Kaaba had become surrounded by pagan idols. To cleanse the Kaaba, the Prophet Muhammad led his followers from Medina to Mecca in what is now regarded as the first Hajj. The pagan idols were destroyed, and Muhammad rededicated the Kaaba to God. At this point, Hajj became one of the five pillars of Islam, and adherents have been making the journey ever since. While on Hajj, men and women are permitted to perform the rituals side-by-side as a reminder that they will also stand together on Judgment Day.


Prior to the start of Hajj, pilgrims go to the entry station where they bathe, don special clothing and make a statement of intent. The first ritual of Hajj is performed inside the Grand Mosque complex: pilgrims circle the Kaaba structure seven times, counterclockwise, reciting prayers (tawaf). Following tawaf, many drink from the Zamzam well. Next, Muslims walk rapidly between the hills of Sara and Marwa seven times, as Hagar did. Another statement of intent is made, after which the faithful travel through Mina, and on to the plains of Mount Arafat.

Intense prayer for forgiveness is offered at Arafat, as Muhammad said, “Far more people are freed from the Hellfire on the Day of Arafat than on any other day.” This portion of the Hajj journey is one of the most important. Small stones are gathered, and the following day, pilgrims perform a symbolic “stoning of the devil” at Mina.

Muslims the world over celebrate Eid al-Adha. Pilgrims return to Mecca to repeat Tawaf, crossing Sara and Marwa, performing additional symbolic stonings and circulating the Kaaba one final time, to do a farewell tawaf.


Pilgrims wear digital ID bracelets: Saudi Arabia has declared that pilgrims traveling to Mecca for Hajj 2016 should wear electronic identification bracelets the entire time they are in the country, to assist authorities in identifying crowd locations and accessing medical information. The British security firm G4S was commissioned to make the bracelets and, according to a Saudi newspaper, the bracelets are water-resistant and connected to a GPS location system. (Read more from PressTV.) In addition, Saudi authorities have installed more than 800 surveillance cameras at the Grand Mosque in Mecca.

Last wish granted: Each year, inspiring and emotional individual stories arise out of Hajj, and this year, among them is the story of Abdiaziz Aden—a 23-year-old Kenyan who is in advanced stages of bone cancer and has received his final wish: to attend Hajj. After having released a video online from his hospital bed, asking his countrymen to help his wish to come true, Kenyans on social media and others raised the funds for Aden’s pilgrimage. (Read the story here—and find a link to his video, too.) Aden departs for Hajj 2016 on September 5.

No Hajj for Iranian pilgrims: In light of last year’s Hajj stampede, Iran has declared that its citizens will not take part in Hajj until Saudi Arabia can better guaranteed the safety of pilgrims, reports CNN and other news sources. According to some reports, more than half of the pilgrims killed in last year’s stampede were Iranian.


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Eid al-Fitr: Muslims worldwide greet Ramadan’s end with festivals, vacations

Mosque with crowd under blue sky

Eid prayers at the Badshahi Mosque in Pakistan. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Note: Due to traditional moon sighting calculations, Muslim observances often vary by country or region.

WEDNESDAY, JULY 6: Eid Sa’id! (Happy Eid!)

Sunrise-to-sunset fasting through some of the year’s longest, hottest days has ended for the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims, and the Islamic community transitions from the month of Ramadan to Shawwaal with a joyous “Feast of the Breaking of the Fast,” called Eid al-Fitr. Islamic days start at sunset, and for 2016, official astronomers have predicted that sunrise on July 6 will open Eid ul-Fitr. (Spellings vary and you may see the holiday alternatively spelled Eid ul-Fitr as well.)

For the grand holiday, Muslims around the world awaken early, heading to a nearby mosque (or, in some cases, an open square or field) and praying in unison, before feasting with families and friends. Government buildings, schools and businesses close in Muslim countries as everyone visits family and friends, dines on sweet treats and greets passersby with a “Happy Eid.” In many regions, festivities will continue for three days; in Turkey, this year, festivities will last nine days.

Table set fancy with bowls of dates, wraps, spices and cookies

A traditional Moroccan feast for Eid al-Fitr. Photo by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, courtesy of Flickr

Fast fact: In 2016, Muslims in the Northern Hemisphere fasted during some of the “longest” days of the calendar year, as Ramadan fell during the weeks surrounding the June solstice. In some areas of the UK, fasting lasted up to 19 hours in a day. (Of course, Muslims in the Southern Hemisphere enjoyed relatively short fasting periods this year.)

Before sunrise on Eid al-Fitr, Muslims pray, bathe and put on their best clothing. A small breakfast—usually including dates—is consumed before heading to a nearby mosque, hall or open area. Zakat (charitable giving) has been completed, and adherents spend ample time enjoying the company of family and friends, attending carnivals and fireworks displays, giving gifts and expressing thanks to Allah.

Did you know? The first Eid was observed by the Prophet Muhammad in 624 CE. 

The grand holiday of Eid al-Fitr is referred to in many ways: the Sugar Feast, Sweet Festival, Feast of the Breaking of the Fast and Bajram to name just few.


With nearly one-quarter of the world’s population observing the Islamic faith, countries around the world are preparing their banks, airlines, shops, business hours and public services for the major holiday. Unlike most Muslim holidays, which may or may not be observed by all Muslims each year, the two Eid holidays—Eid al-Adha and Eid al-Fitr—are always commemorated universally. In recognition of this principal festival, the U.S. Postal Service recently unveiled its 2016 Eid stamp; Philadelphia recently has, as New York did, added the two Eid holidays to its public school calendar. In the UK, some of the largest festivals of the year will take place for the Eid holidays. Since 1987, Australia’s Multicultural Eid Festival and Fair has drawn tens of thousands of attendees annually.

Did you know? In Egypt, Eid ul-Fitr is an occasion for neighborhood carnivals; in Asia, the celebratory dish contains toasted sweet vermicelli noodles and dried fruit; in Saudi Arabia, wealthy families buy large quantities of rice and other staples and leave them anonymously on the doorsteps of those less fortunate.

Women stand with their backs to the camera, wearing headscarves, at a crowded beach

For many Muslims, the Eid holiday break is a time for visiting family or taking a vacation. Photo by United Nations Photo, courtesy of Flickr


Workers in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) could receive up to five days off for the Eid holidays, this year, news publications report. As the holiday break this year will coincide with summer school holidays, experts are predicting high travel rates.

Dubai expects almost 2 million travelers to use the Dubai International Airport over the weekends starting July 1 and July 8. Among the most popular destinations: Georgia, Poland, the Czech Republic, Armenia and Sarajevo, Bosnia.

With Turkey’s nine-day Eid holiday break, this year, hotel occupancy rates will increase to over 80 percent, report news publications. Though foreign arrivals have decreased, travel within the country is expected to rise.

Bank Indonesia has prepared money exchange posts across the country ahead of the Eid holidays, and the central bank has prepared Rp 160.4 trillion in various denominations, reported Tempo.co. In many countries, spending increases dramatically before and during the Eid holidays.

Looking for Eid recipes? Sweet and savory selections are available courtesy of the BBC. For sweet recipes, check out NPR.org. For even more, try the New York Times.

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Lailat al Miraj: Muslims celebrate ‘Night Journey,’ origin of faith’s daily prayers

Winged horse with human head on cloud, artistic depiction

Buraq, believed to be the steed that carried Muhammad on his Night Journey. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

THURSDAY, MAY 5: Millions of Muslims worldwide celebrate two phenomenal “night journeys” today that shaped Islam on the holiday known as Lailat al Miraj. (Note: Date may vary based on regional moon sightings.) For one night, Muslims commemorate the Prophet Muhammad’s journey from Mecca to the “Farthest Mosque” in Jerusalem, and then, finally, to heaven, where he was purified and given instructions from Allah to pray five times per day. Muslim tradition also describes the prophet, accompanied by the archangel Gabriel, meeting other prophets during his journey: Adam, John the Baptist, Moses and Abraham, just to name a few. The events of this night are recorded in both the Quran and the Hadith (the sayings of the Prophet).

Did you know? The “night journeys” are believed to have taken place around the year 621 CE.

The events of this sacred night are divided into two parts: in Arabic, Isra and Mi’raj. As the traditional story is told, the Prophet Muhammad’s journey begins in Mecca, at a time when he was “in a state midway between sleep and wakefulness;” Muhammad was granted wisdom and belief, and was washed clean. After a greeting by the Gabriel, Muhammad mounted Al-Buraq—a mythical animal often depicted as a great flying horse with a human face— and traveled to the “farthest mosque” (believed to be at the present site of the Masjid al-Aqsa mosque, or “Temple Mount,” in Jerusalem), where he was tested by Gabriel at God’s command. When he passed the test, Muhammad then ascended to the nearest heaven.

Fast Fact: Isra describes the first portion of the night’s journey, from Mecca to the “farthest mosque” in Jerusalem; Mi’raj is the second portion of the journey, when Muhammad traveled to heaven.

Traveling through the seven levels of heaven, Muhammad finally reached the presence of Allah (God), and was told to instruct Muslims to pray 50 times per day; afterward, upon Moses’s suggestion, Muhammad begged for reductions, until Allah reduced the number to five. At that time, Muhammad returned to Mecca.

Did you know? Following Muhammad’s initial instructions, the earliest Muslims prayed in the direction of Jerusalem, although this location later was changed to Mecca.


Today, Muslims commemorate Lailat al Miraj by attending services at the mosque, relaying the story of the “night journey” to children and reciting specific nighttime prayers. Isra and Mi’raj observances are joyous, and often include festivities enjoyed by children and adults alike. Lailat al Mi’raj is one of the most prominent events on the Islamic calendar.

NEWS: The New Jersey state Board of Education this week approved a list of religious holidays in the upcoming school year, for which schools must allow excused absences. Updated annually, this list includes more than 100 holidays for 2016-2017, including Lailat al Miraj.


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Eid al-Adha: Muslims honor Abraham’s sacrifice during ‘Greater Eid’

Mosque with people overflowing panorama

Muslims gather on Eid at Jama Maszid, the largest mosque in India. photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 24: Crowds spill out of mosques, into open fields and in parks around the world, as Muslims celebrate Eid al-Adha, the “Greater Eid.” In commemoration of the willingness of Ibrahim (Abraham) to sacrifice his son, Ishmael, for God, Eid al-Adha honors both Ibrahim’s devotion and the miracle that took place on the sacrificial altar. The annual Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca draws to a close, and Muslims across the globe gather with family and friends. (View photos from last year’s Eid, here.) In the morning, Eid prayers are offered in congregation.


Two religious holidays are observed by all Muslims each year: Eid al-Fitr, ending the fasting month of Ramadan, and Eid al-Adha.

Eid al-Adha commemorates Ibrahim’s submission to God’s command and God’s intervention.  According to Muslim tradition, when Ibrahim lowered his arm to slaughter his son, the Archangel Gabriel placed a ram on the altar in place of Ishmael. In commemoration, Muslims sacrifice an animal on Eid al-Adha, keeping one-third of the share; giving one-third to relatives and neighbors; and donating the remaining one-third to the poor.

Did you know? An animal sacrificed for Eid al-Adha must meet specific age and quality standards—or else it is considered an unacceptable sacrifice.

On the morning of Eid al-Adha, Muslims dress in their finest clothing and offer prayers in congregation. Following prayers, adherents exchange joyous greetings and give gifts (Eidi) to children. Visits are made, and even non-Muslims are invited to take part in the feasts and festivities.


Last March, the New York Times reported on the decision of New York Mayor Bill de Blasio to close public schools on the two major Muslim holidays: Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. Eid al-Fitr fell during the summer—at the close of Ramadan—and students of New York will experience their first public school holiday for Eid al-Adha this year. In Saudi Arabia, the sacrifice of camels has been banned for 2015, in light of recent MERS virus scares associated with the animal. In addition, no camels are permitted into the holy sites of Mecca and Medina in the weeks surrounding Hajj 2015.

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Hajj 2015: 2 million Muslims gather for world’s largest annual pilgrimage

Very large crowd in mosque, in multiple layers, circling black Kaaba box

Muslim pilgrims in the Grand Mosque, during Hajj. Photo by Al Jazeera English, courtesy of Flickr

MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 21: Despite the recent tragic crane collapse at Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mosque, Mecca has steadily been welcoming more than 2 million Muslims from approximately 200 countries worldwide for Hajj 2015. One of the five Pillars of Islam and the largest annual pilgrimage to a specific spot on earth, Hajj must be undertaken by every able Muslim at least once during his or her lifetime.

Did you know? The Indian festival of Kumbh Mela is a larger gathering, but it does not occur every year. Some scholars of world religion argue that the annual homecoming for Chinese New Year in China may be an even larger spiritual migration of people, each year, but it does not focus on a single destination.

Looking for a first-hand perspective of Hajj? Read Muslim Victor Begg’s open letter, “From the Hajj: One Pilgrim’s Story of a Journey for Millions.”

The crane that recently collapsed was a part of the massive ongoing construction project at the Grand Mosque, which was undertaken to allow the building to accommodate 2.2 million people. Improvements in travel have allowed larger numbers of pilgrims to arrive, in recent years. Attendance swelled so much that the Grand Mosque could no longer safely hold all of the pilgrims, and temporary limits were placed on the population of pilgrims. In some regions of Indonesia—a country with a large Muslim population—the current waiting list for Hajj is up to 17 years.


Planning for each year’s Hajj begins at the finish of the previous one, as officials reexamine programs, facilities management, cleanup and more. When a Muslim has decided to embark on Hajj, he or she performs rituals of the same manner and in the same place that the Prophet Muhammad did, centuries before. Millions of adherents gather in Ihram, to change into simple white garments—two seamless pieces of white cotton for men, and white clothing for women. Once in these garments, pilgrims can no longer differentiate social classes, economic statuses or even national origin, among the masses.

Men in white stand in prayer amid crowd, outdoors

Muslim pilgrims pray at Mount Arafat. Photo by Al Jazeera English, courtesy of Flickr

Did you know? Hajj numbers peaked in 2013, when more than 3.1 million pilgrims took part in the rituals. Following the surge, officials placed limits on the number of pilgrims permitted.

Upon arrival in Mecca, pilgrims begin with Tawaf, or circumambulating the Kaaba in the Grand Mosque, seven times. Prayers follow, and pilgrims perform sa’ay, running or walking between the hills of Safa and Marwah. Muslims on Hajj travel through Mina to the plains of Arafat; sleep in tents; mimic Abraham’s throwing stones at the devil by casting pebbles at the pillars at Mina; and drink from the Zamzam Well, a well believed to have sprung up at baby Ishmael’s feet when Hagar pleaded with God for water. (Wikipedia has details.) Before concluding, pilgrims return to the Grand Mosque to perform a final tawaf, and use this sacred time for confession and asking forgiveness.

Did you know? The Grand Mosque is the largest in the world and surrounds Islam’s holiest site—the Kaaba.

Today, Hajj rituals are completed in a much more accessible—and large-scale—manner than ever before. On the way to Mecca, pilgrims board one of a fleet of 15,000 buses, and when camping at Mina, the thousands of tents are air-conditioned. Hundreds of kitchens at Mina are responsible for feeding the pilgrims, and hundreds of medical clinics ensure the safety of the pilgrims. In Arafat, thousands of sprinklers atop 30-foot poles cool the pilgrims on their walk, and millions of containers of cold water are distributed from refrigerated trucks. When performing sa’ay, enclosed and air-conditioned structures provide relief from the sun and heat of Saudi Arabia. (Learn more from the Saudi Embassy.) When animals are sacrificed for Eid, most pilgrims pay to have their meat slaughtered and distributed to the poor.


Saudi Arabia’s King Salman offered condolences to the families and friends of the 107 killed and over 200 injured in the Grand Mosque crane collapse, which was the first major Hajj-related tragedy since a stampede in 2006. (The Guardian reported.)

The slaughter of camels as part of Hajj rituals has been banned in Saudi Arabia this year, due to the MERS virus associated with the animals. In addition, no camels will be permitted within the holy sites of Mecca and Medina. (NewVision has the story.)

Haram Films has recently released a film shot by a gay Muslim on his pilgrimage to Mecca—an extremely dangerous undertaking, as being openly gay is a crime punishable by death in Saudi Arabia. The film, which premiered in New York City on Sept. 4, showed Parvez Sharma’s struggle to accept Islam amid its view of gay followers. (Read more at HuffingtonPost.com.) Parvez told reporters that he hopes his film will “broaden the conversation” within Islam and among its critics.

Are Hajj selfies disrespectful? Huffington Post poses the question.

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Eid al-Fitr: Muslims celebrate Feast of the Breaking of the (Ramadan) Fast

Thousands of white-clad Muslims on floor of giant building, pillars among crowd, tiers filled with devotees

Muslims gather for Eid al-Fitr prayers at Istiqlal Mosque in Indonesia. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNSET FRIDAY, JULY 17: An entire month of sunrise-to-sunset fasting has ended for the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims, and the Islamic community transitions from the month of Ramadan to Shawwaal with the joyous festival of Eid al-Fitr.

The beginning date of Shawwaal—the 10th month of the Islamic calendar—varies slightly by location, as the date is determined by the sighting of the new moon. Many families excitedly await news of a new moon from Saudi Arabia, when an official sighting is declared from the land of Muhammad; others look to scholars or predictions closer to home. The atmosphere of revelry and celebration overflows out of mosques, homes and neighborhoods worldwide.

The first Eid was observed by the Prophet Muhammad in 624 CE, and today, Muslims everywhere wear their best clothing for special prayers, processions and elaborate shared meals.

Did you know? The common greetings on Eid al-Fitr are Eid Mubarak (“Blessed Eid”) and Eid Sa’id (“Happy Eid”).

The grand holiday of Eid al-Fitr is referred to in many ways: the Sugar Feast, Sweet Festival, Feast of the Breaking of the Fast, Bajram and Lesser Eid name just few. Though the month of Shawwaal officially begins just after sunset, most of the customary rituals of Eid al-Fitr begin several hours later.

Before sunrise on Eid al-Fitr, Muslims pray, bathe and put on their best clothing. (Wikipedia has details.) Perfume is sometimes worn for the occasion, and a small breakfast—usually dates—is consumed before heading to a nearby mosque, hall or open area. Muslim tradition holds that Eid prayers should be offered in congregation, and so this morning, Muslims fill mosques, parks, halls and even open fields for joyous prayer services. Zakat (charitable giving) has been completed, and adherents spend ample time enjoying the company of family and friends, attending carnivals and fireworks displays, giving gifts and expressing thanks to Allah.

Did you know? Eid al-Fitr is referred to as “Lesser Eid,” while Eid al-Adha—a separate holiday—is “Greater Eid.”

Tradition states that when Muhammad migrated from Mecca and arrived in Medina, he found the people there to be celebrating two special days, set aside for cheer and leisure. At this, Muhammad declared that the Almighty designated two alternate days for these purposes: Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha.


Eid al-Fitr is celebrated for one to three days, and in many Muslim communities, a central activity is the Eid prayers. Where possible, Muslims walk to the location of Eid prayers, and many use separate routes to and from the prayer grounds. Eid prayers are followed by a sermon, along with a request for God’s forgiveness and mercy. In turn, Muslims are urged to forgive others and put aside differences.

Desserts, sweet, sesame seeds, dried noodles, cream and nuts

Sweet treats are commonly consumed during the Eid al-Fitr holiday. Photo by Dani Armengol Garreta, courtesy of Flickr

In Saudi Arabia, it is not uncommon for shopkeepers to offer gifts with purchase prior to Eid, as a display of generosity. In some areas, men purchase large bags of rice and other basic food staples to leave anonymously on the doorsteps of the poor. In major cities, enormous fireworks shows take place each night of Eid celebrations. (View a slideshow of 2014 Eid activites here.) Egyptians observe Eid al-Fitr with days off from school and work, visiting family and spending days at local parks, theaters, beaches and carnivals. Television programs focus on Eid al-Fitr with movie marathons and live interviews featuring Eid commentaries. In Indonesia, one of the largest temporary human migrations takes place with Lebaran, the custom of workers returning to their home town to join in the revelries with their families. Since 1987, Australia has hosted the Multicultural Eid Festival and Fair in Sydney, catering to tens of thousands of attendees.


Last March, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio officially declared Islam’s two most-observed holidays—Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha—public school holidays. (Huffington Post reported.) The duo was the first religious addition to the academic calendar since the Jewish High Holy Days, in 1960. Throughout Ramadan and during the Eid al-Fitr holidays, dates are one of the most commonly consumed foods: Muslims eat the fruit alone, as part of a sweet dessert or even incorporated into a savory dish. Learn all about the variety and uses of dates—plus access a wide array of tantalizing recipes—in this article from the New York Times. As experts estimate that Muslim spending in America comprises a $100 billion industry, top designers like Giorgio Armani, Tommy Hilfiger and DKNY are taking to the runway with Muslim-inspired designs for Ramadan and Eid. (Read more here.) The largest celebrations take place during the Eid al-Fitr holidays, though industry specialists are advising incoming brands to understand the holidays before trying to “break in” to the market.

Looking for both savory and sweet recipes for Eid al-Fitr? Check out the BBC.

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