Ramadan: Muslims worldwide embrace month of fasting and prayer

“O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that ye may (learn) self-restraint.”
from The Quran

Mosque lit at night with people gathered

Muslims gather for a Quran reading during Ramadan in Iran. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNSET SUNDAY MAY 5: The crescent moon shines in the night sky as Ramadan 2019 begins for Muslims around the globe, ushering in a month of daytime fasting, intense prayer and shared nighttime meals. Though an official moon sighting—and start date of Ramadan—is announced from Saudi Arabia, localized moon sightings may still vary slightly by region. (Learn more here about the crescent moon sighting, vital to the start of Ramadan, from the website of the main North American council of Islamic scholars.)

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 is a time of great feasting and family celebrations.

RAMADAN 2019:
DISCOVER ‘OUR MUSLIM NEIGHBORS’

Author Victor Begg is an experienced public speaker and group leader. He’s already scheduling appearances across the U.S. Contact him via his website if you’re interested in inquiring about his schedule.

Early in 2019, we encouraged our readers to make a special commitment this year. You can read that entire column here. The story opens this way …

Join all of us at our publishing house in making this New Year’s Resolution: Meet a Muslim.

Most Americans have never actually met our millions of Muslim neighbors. It’s time to change that. If we do reach out, we usually discover new friends with similar values—and the entire community is enriched by our new friendships.

This week, we are making this process easier than ever before. You can meet Victor Begg, his wife Shahina and their entire family in the engaging new memoir, Our Muslim Neighbors—Achieving the American Dream, an Immigrant’s MemoirVictor welcomes readers into a fascinating family story in which readers are likely to recognize the personalities of their own mothers, fathers and other family and friends.

Readers certainly will recognize their core American values and will enjoy reading about Victor’s courageous attempts to live out those values, sometimes in the midst of tragedy.

RAMADAN: MUHAMMAD AND THE QURAN

Of every month in the calendar, Muslims hold Ramadan to be the most favorable for the revelations of God to humankind. Specifically, Ramadan recalls the month when the first verses of the Quran were revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. Because the Quran was given to the Prophet during this month, Muslims usually spend more time with the Quran—often visiting mosques and other Muslim centers where the entire Quran will be recited aloud during the course of the month.

During this special month, devotees also gain a better understanding of the conditions surrounding those less fortunate around the world, and charitable works skyrocket during Ramadan.

FASTING (AND THE IFTAR)

Tradition states that God not only suggested fasting, but demanded it for those physically and mentally able. During Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, all able Muslims are required to refrain from eating and drinking during daylight hours in the hopes that they will gain a closer relationship with Allah.

A fast-breaking meal known as Iftar replenishes the body’s food stores after a long day: the meal starts with dates, in the practice of Muhammad himself, followed by a feast prepared for family and friends.

During the night, Muslim countries are alight and alive with lanterns in houses and mosques, lights in public squares and joy all around.

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Categories: Muslim

Intercalary Days and the Nineteen-Day Fast: Baha’is celebrate unity, fast

White walkway, open-air, with poles and blue shutters overlooking gardens below

A walkway and gardens at the Mansion of Bahji, now a shrine in the Baha’i faith and located in Israel. Photo courtesy of Max Pixel

  • SUNSET MONDAY, FEBRUARY 25: Baha’is begin a period of special, “outside of time” days to correct their annual calendar.
  • SUNSET FRIDAY, MARCH 1: Baha’is begin the 19-day month of Ala, which is a fasting month in preparation for the Baha’i New year.

AYYAM-I-HA (DAYS OF HA)

Sacred days “outside of time” begin for members of the Baha’i faith as the festival of Ayyam-i-Ha, or Intercalary Days, commences. Until sunset on March 1, Baha’is mark a break in their 19-month calendar: the “extra days” are used to bring awareness to God’s oneness, along with a focus on charity and unity.

Ayyam-i-Ha—literally, the Days of Ha—plays on a double meaning of “Ha”: Ha, the first letter of an Arabic pronoun commonly used to refer to God, is used as a symbol of the essence of God in Baha’i writings; the Arabic abjad system designates the letter Ha as having a numerical value of five, which has always been the maximum number of days allowed for the period of Ayyam-i-Ha.

Baha’u’llah designated that Ayyam-i-Ha should be filled with “good cheer” and “joy and exultation”—for Baha’is, their kindred and for recipients of the Baha’is’ charity.

Important update! As of March 20, 2015, the Baha’i calendar has reflected changes made by the Universal House of Justice: Naw-Ruz (New Year) now falls on the Vernal Equinox, as opposed to being fixed on the Gregorian March 21.

When the Bab began creating a calendar for the new Babi religion in the 1840s, intercalation (which is not practiced in Islam) was implemented to differentiate it from the existing Islamic calendar. When the Bab did not specify where the Intercalary Days should be inserted, Baha’u’llah—the one foretold of by the Bab—designated that they should be placed before the fasting month of Ala. Today, Baha’is still observe the Nineteen-Day Fast throughout the entire month of Ala. A New Year begins the day after Ala ends.

THE NINETEEN-DAY FAST

 With the festive days of Ayyim-i-Ha behind, Baha’is enter the final month of the calendar year with the Nineteen-Day Fast. For the entire final month of the Baha’i calendar year—Ala, which lasts 19 days—Baha’is observe a sunrise-to-sunset fast. Many Baha’is regard the Nineteen-Day Fast as one of the greatest obligations of their faith.

Instituted by the Bab and revised by Baha’u’llah, the Nineteen-Day Fast is intended to bring a person closer to God. According to the Bab, the true purpose of the fast is to abstain from everything except divine love. Fasting guidelines, exemptions and more are in the Kitab-i-Aqdas, Baha’u’llah’s book of laws.

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Categories: Baha'i

Ramadan: Muslims (and Islamic World Cup athletes, too) observe month of fasting

“And whosoever of you is present, let him fast the month, and whosoever of you is sick or on a journey, a number of other days. Allah desires for you ease; He desires not hardship for you; and that you should complete the period, and that you should magnify Allah for having guided you, and that perhaps you may be thankful.”
Quran

Line of men on rug outdoors, between mosques, as sun peeks over the horizon

Men pray at the ‘Blue Mosque’ in Afghanistan, during Ramadan. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNSET SATURDAY, JUNE 28: Athletes at World Cup Brazil 2014 have been gearing up for weeks; the United Arab Emirates announced the official date; Muslim astronomers have been seeking sight of the crescent moon: Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting, begins with the rising of the sun on June 29 for millions of Muslims around the world.

NOTE: Because the Muslim calendar moves with lunar cycles—and some still rely on physical sightings of the moon—the start of the fast can vary by nation, community and even by individual practice. Even Google’s global listing for the start of Ramadan cites the evening of June 28—then prominently adds the disclaimer: “Dates may vary.”

During daylight hours for the next month—until July 28 (again, dates may vary)—observant Muslims will fast from food, drink, smoking, swearing and sexual relations, all the while studying the Quran and deepening their relationship with Allah. Ramadan is one of the Five Pillars of Islam and is obligatory for all physically able and of-age adherents.

For Muslims, Ramadan is a worldwide experience of community. In predominantly Muslim countries, the entire population seems to “switch day for night,” to accommodate the physical demands of the fast on long, hot summer days. In many towns, early-morning criers run through the streets or broadcast from towers that the day’s fast is about to begin.

These adaptations make it easier to keep the fast. School and work hours often are shortened for the month. At night, streets are filled with lanterns and restaurants are full. After sunset, the first major meal—aside from three date fruits, which traditionally break the fast—is known as the iftar. Today, the iftar has grown into an occasion for massive gatherings with family and friends. (Wikipedia has details.)

Buffet-style banquets ensue and tables overflow with traditional dishes. In the Middle East, an iftar might include salads, lamb stewed with wheat berries or grilled vegetables, roast chicken and rich baklava and other desserts. In many public squares, symbolic decorations are hung and lanterns are adorned with crescent moons.

LEARN MORE ABOUT RAMADAN

Najah Bazzy cover The Beauty of RamadanReadTheSpirit publishes The book—the essential guidebook, that is—about Ramadan customs. Written by cross-cultural health-care expert Najah Bazzy, The Beauty of Ramadan is full of fascinating customs, health concerns and inspirational readings about Ramadan. It’s a great choice for professionals who work in diverse communities to understand the Muslim experience of the fasting month.

A brief passage from her book explains Muslim appreciation of this special month:

“Exercising a person’s will power to refrain from the everyday dependency on food, drink, smoke, sex and other basic human needs teaches our very selfish brain to be that which it is not – disciplined! Having the ability to say “NO” teaches the lesson of self-control. Self-control is paramount in having a morally mindful and God-conscious personality. Health-care providers have been using behavior modification techniques quite a bit in recent years, especially for weight control, drug abuse, and other physical, mental, or emotional disorders. However, God has ordained fast as a behavior modification for thousands of years in our human history.”

5 Surprises of Ramadan

For Ramadan 2013, the OurValues project published a special five-part series on “Surprises of Ramadan”—featuring news stories that tend to debunk myths about Islam and the fasting month. Some details are dated, a year later, but some of these stories (and accompanying videos) still are surprising … and downright fun. Example: Camel’s milk anyone?

FEED THE SPIRIT

FeedTheSpirit host Bobbie Lewis has published two columns about Parwin Anwar and her family. The first column describes their journey and cultural transition from Afghanistan to the United States.  Then, in a second column with Anwar, Bobbie features a favorite Ramadan recipe for flat bread.

SPECIAL DAYS DURING RAMADAN

During this sacred period, two days stand out among the rest: Laylat al-Qadr, “Night of Power,” and Eid al-Fitr, “celebration of breaking the fast.” Laylat al-Qadr, the most holy night of the year, is believed to have been when the first revelation of the Quran to Muhammad, the central event honored during the month of Ramadan. The faithful regard worship on Laylat al-Qadr as “better than one thousand months,” and therefore pray diligently. The joyful Eid al-Fitr occurs on the first day of the month following Ramadan, Shawwal. After a month of strict fasting, Eid al-Fitr brings unfettered joy, daytime feasts and merry gatherings with family and friends.

IN THE NEWS:
WORLD CUP ATHLETES,
EXPANSIONS IN MECCA
& BLOOD DONOR PLEAS

Two years ago, international headlines were buzzing with stories of Olympic athletes managing the restrictions of the Ramadan fast; this year—the first, since 1986—Ramadan will fall during the World Cup, and journalists are scurrying to interview the effected athletes in Brazil. With soaring temperatures and high humidity in Brazil, playing professional rounds of soccer will be no easy task without food or water during daylight hours. (Read more from On Islam or ABNA.) Approaches to the challenge vary: Some athletes have sought permission to delay fasting, while others have vowed to consume not even a drop of water during Ramadan. One athlete, the Ivory Coast’s Kolo Toure, even told reporters that Ramadan makes him “feel even stronger.”

In Mecca, preparations for crowd management during Ramadan have been underway for weeks, as officials finalize plans to accommodate both visitors and the massive construction areas at the Grand Mosque. (Arab News reported.) Security guards have undergone special orientations classes to prepare for the influx of visitors.

Pleas are being made for Muslims to donate blood before leaving for Mecca or starting the Ramadan fast, reported Gulf News. As the dietary restrictions of Ramadan ensure significantly fewer donors during the month—in the United Arab Emirates, in particular—but no less need for blood, experts are asking that Muslims make extra effort to donate before the start of Ramadan.

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Categories: Muslim

Ramadan: Billion Muslims tackle the most difficult fast in decades

Holed star lit up, strings of lights lit between buildings at nighttime

Star and crescent moon decorations. like the ones above in Jerusalem, are common during Ramadan. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNSET MONDAY, JULY 8: The month-long fast of Ramadan has not been this close to the Summer Solstice—the year’s longest daylight hours in the Northern Hemisphere—since the mid 1980s. Because the Muslim calendar is based on lunar cycles, Islamic holidays and festivals keep moving nearly two weeks earlier, each year, when compared with the international calendar. This means that, in 2013, the millions of Muslims living in the Northern Hemisphere will be fasting—without a single drop of water passing their lips—during the year’s longest and hottest days.

Important note: Most major American Muslim centers are urging their communities to begin the fast at dawn on Tuesday, but the exact dates of the fasting month always vary around the world. In recent days, a report by astronomers from the United Arab Emirates (situated near Saudi Arabia) indicates that Muslims in that part of the world may start their fast one day later. The astronomers calculated that it wouldn’t be possible to sight the new month’s crescent moon on Monday night, since the moon and sun would set together on that date.

sm Najah Bazzy cover The Beauty of Ramadan

Click the cover to learn more about the book.

Wherever Muslims live in the Northern hemisphere, health is a huge issue this year. Muslim leaders and public-health officials in many countries are issuing safety advisories, including information for Muslims who are diabetic. A UK campaign is aimed at educating Muslims on how to maintain health throughout the month. (Get details here.) Silver Star, a charity foundation, has organized the “Staying Healthy During Ramadan” initiative, sending representatives to mosques and instructing participants on how to control blood glucose levels.

Read the Spirit publishes The Beauty of Ramadan: A Guide to the Muslim Month of Prayer and Fasting for Muslims and non-Muslims, researched and written by cross-cultural health-care expert Najah Bazzy. In her book, Bazzy includes an entire section on health advisories. Islam is a practical faith, Bazzy writes, and makes many exceptions for the safety of men and women. Although the fast of Ramadan is among the strictest in world religion, it is not forbidden for people to use their inhalers for respiratory conditions or to take insulin injections for diabetes. There are many other exceptions detailed in her book.

“Islam is very careful to encourage Muslims to be moderate in all things, to strive to find the correct balance in life,” Bazzy writes.

SEND A RAMADAN GREETING TO FRIENDS AND COLLEAGUES

Given the challenges, this year, you may want to send a kind greeting for Ramadan to friends, colleagues or neighbors right now. This week, the popular Our Values series is reporting on 5 Surprising Things about Ramadan, including today’s first column about the culture of greeting Muslim neighbors during Ramadan. In the column are ideas for quickly sending your own greeting.

RAMADAN PREPARATIONS AROUND THE WORLD

Ramadan involves such a vast portion of the world’s population that it affects global markets for foods related to breaking the fast each night. While Ramadan is a month-long fast, each night’s meal with family and friends is a delight—some American Muslims have compared the nights of Ramadan to a long series of Thanksgiving dinners.

Dates in a Moroccan market

Dates in a Moroccan market. Photo by Dan Huntington released for public use via Wikimedia Commons.

Because dates are traditionally chosen as the first bites enjoyed as night falls, governments in countries with major Muslim populations try to ensure that merchants don’t gouge for dates, among other popular commodities.

In Bangladesh, the Dhaka Tribune recently reported: “Historically, it is evident that the level of consumption hikes up during the fasting month of Ramdan every year. Supply shortage, coupled with the hike in demand triggered by increased consumption, takes the price of most food products beyond affordability of lower-middle and lower income groups of people during Ramadan.” Nevertheless, the Tribune reported, sufficient food quantities seem to be available as the fasting month approaches.

Pre-Ramadan commodity reports are moving onto the front pages of newspapers across Asia and the Middle East. One report from Saudi Arabia says there may be a shortage of dates this year. A news story from Indonesia says the government is increasing imports of cattle from Australia to ensure there will be enough beef for Ramadan-night dinners. Another report from an Indonesian trade ministry claims that stocks of flour, sugar, cooking oil and eggs are at high levels in the wholesale supply chain for grocery stores. Families need not worry, the ministry reports, although the price of beef is rising.

RAMADAN CUSTOMS: ZAKAT, LANTERNS AND MORE

Colorful plastic Ramadan lanterns are on display in an Egyptian market for shoppers who want to decorate their homes. Photo by B. Simpson released for public use via Wikimedia Commons.

Colorful plastic Ramadan lanterns are on display in an Egyptian market for shoppers who want to decorate their homes. Photo by B. Simpson released for public use via Wikimedia Commons.

Preparing a donation—an offering of zakat—is common in Ramadan, with a special focus on helping poor families properly observe the fasting month as well as the major festival of thanksgiving as the fasting month ends. This practice is zakat al-fitr, or giving for the breaking of the fast. This year, the Eid al-Fitr, or the Holiday of Breaking the Fast, will fall around August 7. Muslim leaders in regions around the world determine the final date for the Eid, which can vary even within a single country.

Ramadan begins with the sighting of a crescent moon and, these days, Muslim authorities commonly consulting scientists to determine the proper first day. Islamic news releases around the first day of Ramadan, now, commonly remind the world that Muslims have a centuries-old history of encouraging developments in science, math and astronomy.

In preparation for this shift to night-time festivities as each day’s fast ends, Muslim communities around the world often are strung with lanterns, glowing stars and crescent ornaments. Mosque doors will be open all night for Muslims hoping to spend extra time in prayer—and huge crowds are anticipated at many Islamic centers across the U.S. for Ramadan-night programs.

Popular Muslim centers host famous orators who are invited to recite the entire text of the Quran during Ramadan’s four weeks. (Catch live webcasting of Taraweeh prayers, check out a Hadith of the Day or look up nationwide prayer times at IslamiCity.) Muslims believe that the rewards for prayer, zakat and a devoted fast are multiplied during this, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar.

In her book, Najah Bazzy quotes an English translation of the Prophet Muhammad’s own sermon about Ramadan, which says in part: “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.

Once Ramadan has begun, Muslims eat their first pre-fast meal before sunrise, known as suhoor. (As the Muslim community is so culturally diverse, there is no typical suhoor food.) From sunrise to sunset, Muslims abstain from food, liquids, smoking and sexual intimacy. The fast also is supposed to include the elimination of evil intentions and deeds. Bazzy writes that Muslims are challenged to avoid all forms of ill will: “A person must not gossip, lie, covet or steal.” She adds: “The mindset or mental preparation for the fast is as important as the fast itself.”

IFTAR MEAL & HOLIDAYS WITHIN RAMADAN

At sunset each night, Muslim families halt their activities for the joyous iftar, or fast-breaking evening meal. As Muhammad broke his Ramadan fast with three dates, most Muslims continue his practice. Prayer follows, and then the expansive iftar meal is served. In the Middle East, several beverages, salads, appetizers, entrees and desserts make up a well-planned iftar. Entrees are usually traditional, ranging from lamb with wheat berries to roasted chicken with chickpea stuffing.

Care to taste what many Muslim families will enjoy at iftar? Feed the Spirit columnist Bobbie Lewis is beginning a two-part column on favorite Ramadan recipes from an Afghani-American family. Her first column includes a recipe for a wonderfully spicy-and-savory vegetarian stuffed flat bread.

Enjoy a good movie after dinner? Film critic Ed McNulty serves up A Baker’s Dozen: 13 Best Films on Food and Faith, which includes Hollywood favorites as well as one feature film about fasting in Ramadan.

During the last 10 days of Ramadan, the Prophet became especially rigorous in his nightly prayer and daytime worship, even taking up temporary social isolation. Most Muslims consider the last one-third of Ramadan to be an even stricter period, and Laylat al-Qadr, the “night of power,” falls during this time. Adherents believe that the first revelation of the Quran was sent to Muhammad on this night, and thus worship is considered “better than one thousand months.”

RAMADAN 2013:
FROM THE GRAND MOSQUE TO CANADIAN TAXIS

Hand holding black strand of prayer beads

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

In Egypt, a male-only soap opera is creating buzz as it debuts during Ramadan, the country’s busiest and most lucrative television season. Creators of the show, called Coffee Shop, say that they wanted to create an alternative to the sexualized content of most TV series. (The Guardian covered the story.) Catering to a conservative Egyptian population won’t be difficult, creators say, since coffee shops are typically male environments on the streets of Egypt anyway.

After seven months of construction in Saudi Arabia on the Grand Mosque’s Mataf, the vast area where pilgrims move around the sacred Kabaa, workers will halt for the entirety of Ramadan. With massive crowds expected during the month, the Grand Mosque will be in full use, even if crowded, a problem that will be solved once the expansion project is complete in 2015. (Read the story in the Saudi Gazette.) At project end, the Mataf will double its current capacity.

In Canada, Muslim taxi drivers will be accommodated for Ramadan despite the surge of tourists expected for the Calgary Stampede. (The CPC reports.) At the city’s busiest time of year, Calgary’s taxi drivers—an estimated 40 percent of whom are Muslim—will be provided a centrally located area to pray, so that they can minimize their time off-duty while still adhering to the obligations of Ramadan.

Care to read more about America’s growing religious diversity? Check out this series of columns by Michigan State University’s journalism professor Joe Grimm.

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

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Categories: Muslim