As you read this blog, Muslims all across the globe are observing Ramadan. But what exactly is Ramadan? And what are they celebrating?
Ramadan takes place in the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. Its start date differs by 11 days each year, based on the sighting of the first crescent of the new moon. In Sioux Falls, it started this year on May 16 and will end on June 14, marking exactly 30 days. It is a month of fasting to remember and celebrate the first revelation of the Koran to the prophet Muhammad.
Ramadan is one of the 5 pillars of Islam. For a Muslim, Ramadan is not a choice but an obligation. The fast lasts from sunrise to sunset, which could be from 10 to 15 hours or longer, depending on the time of year and geographical location. No food or drink can pass their lips during that time. Muslims not only fast with their stomach, but also with their eyes and with their tongue – don’t engage in any negative activities such as lying, gossiping or arguing and don’t inflict any physical or spiritual harm on anybody. This teaches you how to become more aware of your own range of emotions and how to handle them.
Not everyone is obligated to fast. Exemptions include the elderly and very ill, young children, pregnant women and nursing mothers and those who are traveling for more than 3 days. Those who are able to are required to make up the days they missed at a later date. Those who are unable to fast are encouraged to provide food to a homeless person for the duration of the fast. Starting at the age of 6 or 7 children start to practice fasting. First, they might skip a meal, then fast for half a day, gradually increasing the time of fasting until they are able to fast for the entire 30 days once they reach puberty.
Ramadan offers the opportunity to grow closer to God. Believers are strongly encouraged to diligently read the entire Koran. I was told that if you read at least 5 chapters every day, you can accomplish the task. It is a time for self-reflection and self-improvement. Fasting brings out compassion for the less fortunate, for those amongst us who deal with food insecurities on a daily basis.
Muslims pray 5 times every day. During Ramadan, strict prayer times are observed and additional daily prayers are strongly encouraged. The Mosque is a central gathering place for community prayers and fellowship. Many Mosques stay open 24 hours to allow Muslims to spend extended periods of time in prayer and reflection. It is not uncommon for some to spend the night when they don’t have to work the next day.
Each day at sunset, at an exactly given time, Muslims ‘break the fast’ and gather for a meal. Ramadan is also a very social time and often the people around the table include friends and neighbors. The end of Ramadan is celebrated with a major Muslim holiday, Eid Al-Fitr. Special prayers and sermons are held at the Mosque and the day ends with a huge feast, oftentimes in a park where the entire community can celebrate together.
Written by Silke Hansen, ESL Instructor, Center for New Americans