May 17, 2018

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

“Blessing,” the Spirit of Ramadan

July 18, 2014

Continuing the Summer Series, LSS Center for New Americans shares about Ramadan, an important religious observance for our Muslim neighbors going on now.    

Adane Redda, a Direct Service Worker at LSS Center for New Americans, came to the United States from Ethiopia fourteen years ago. He agreed to sit down with me and answer my questions about observing Ramadan, which all Muslims around the world are in the midst of observing.

Please tell us about Ramadan for those in our community unfamiliar with this holiday.

For those who have accepted Islam as a way of life, it is required to follow the five Pillars of Islam. All Muslims must declare that there is only one God in which you need to believe. The second pillar involves prayer; Muslims must pray five times a day. The third pillar involves giving charity and money to people in need. Another pillar is fasting during Ramadan. And the fifth pillar is making the Hajj, a pilgrimage to Mecca, if you are able.

Adane shared several special circumstances which allowed for the exemption of fasting during Ramadan including if a person was sick, traveling, or a nursing mother. The very young and the very old are also exempt. During this season, most Muslims will fast from sunrise to sunset for twenty-nine to thirty days depending on moon sightings. Adane continued to share with me the spirit and heart of Ramadan.

The spirit of Ramadan is blessing. When we fast and when we break the fast, we feel happy knowing we did what God prescribed for us. During Ramadan—poor or wealthy—we are all the same. We break the fast together, especially during the weekends. During the weekends we prepare food to share when we gather together to break the fast and perform special prayers and recite the Quran. Ramadan is a time for more prayers, more supplications because the door of heaven is open and any prayers are accepted. It is a time for forgiveness. We are sad when Ramadan leaves us because maybe we don’t fast together again next year. There are several people whom we fasted within the past who are not with us this year.

During Ramadan, we do not only abstain from food and drink, but our eyes must fast, our tongue must fast, our body must fast. For example, if someone upsets me and I get in an argument with them, I break the fast. So you see, Ramadan is more than fasting from food and drink.

How is celebrating Ramadan in Sioux Falls different than celebrating in your country?

In some Muslim countries, we are allowed to take the whole month of Ramadan off. We fast during the day and perform prayers through the night. Here it is different. Work is equally as important as fasting as we are working to support our families. It is more difficult for evening workers, especially for workers on production lines whose breaks may not fall when we break fast at night. He could say he is fasting, but who understands? It can be difficult for them.

Muslims in Turkey observing Ramadan.  (Photo courtesy of euronews.)

Muslims in Turkey observing Ramadan. (Photo courtesy of euronews.)

Tell me about the gathering that marks the end of Ramadan.

“Eid al-Fitr,” means the Festival of Breaking the Fast in Arabic. It is when all Muslims come together in the early morning to pray and greet each other. We will visit at the gathering, but also at each other’s homes. It is one of the biggest Islamic holidays.

Will the gathering in Sioux Falls involve Muslims from the many different countries we have represented in Sioux Falls?

Yes. That is the beauty of Islam. It doesn’t matter where we came from. We share one common thing. When I go to the mosque—on the line praying with me—I see people from Ethiopia, Egypt, Somalia, Libya, Iraq and more. What unites us is Islam.

Thank you, Adane, for your work at LSS and for sharing your insight into Ramadan.

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