What’s the Spiritual Season this week? Ramadan, a forgiving festival, a god’s birthday and Hawaiian island statehood


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What’s the Spiritual Season?
(August 17 to 23, 2009)
By Stephanie Fenton

the month-long observance of Ramadan begins for Muslims. According to
Islamic tradition, the Quran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad on this ninth
month of the Islamic calendar. During this month, Muslims fast from
food, drink and anything of impure nature between the hours of sunrise
and sunset. The fast is performed in honor of Allah, and Muslims take
extra time to pray, read the Quran (in its entirety) and to reflect on
their lives. It’s believed that if Ramadan is properly observed, sins
are washed away.
    Ramadan has ancient roots,
as this was the ancient name for the time of year when heat was
extreme, rain was scarce and, as a result, food was scarce as well. For maps, facts, videos and more about Islam, check out this colorful and interactive site from the History Channel.
During the days of Ramadan, Muslims refrain from worldly thoughts and
focus on cleansing the soul. Those who cannot fast must either make up
the days later or feed the poor, in return. In many Muslim countries,
markets open during the night to serve those who are fasting during the
day, and the streets are alive with vibrant life and conversation (for some great Ramadan recipes, grab your spatula and head on over to this site).
Ramadan is taken quite seriously in many predominantly Muslim countries: Those who do not
fast can be prosecuted with fines, prison time or other
punishments. As Islam is the world’s second-largest religion next to
Christianity, with approximately 1 billion followers, Ramadan’s
practices are popular on five continents. The largest Muslim
communities are in Indonesia, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
    PLEASE MAKE TIME for ReadTheSpirit’s second annual presentation of “SharingRamadan”—a special series of inspiring stories about American Muslim life.
Those of Islamic culture have played a larger part in global subjects
than some may realize. The works of Aristotle were introduced to Europe
during the Middle Ages by Islamic scholars, an Arabic astronomer
created today’s decimal system, Muslim philosophers developed the
modern Scientific Method and the Courtly Love poetry of Middle-Age
Europe was influenced by Arabic poetry. Find
other interesting facts about Islamic culture and people, as well as a
fun Ramadan lesson plan for kids, at this educational Web site.

The recipient of the Quran, the Prophet Muhammad, was 40 when he reported seeing
visions of the Archangel Gabriel. Muhammad originally told just family
and friends about his visions, but later, he began preaching to others
about the unity, goodness and purity of God. By the time of his death,
Mecca had been turned over to Muhammad. Today, Mecca is the holy city
to which Muslims make pilgrimages.
    This year, Muslims can print out prayer times for their city or hear daily prayers from Mecca at this Web site.
    (The photo at left shows the interior of a mosque in Istanbul, Turkey. Once Ramadan begins, mosques will be packed each night for recitations of the Quran and community prayers.)

SUNDAY, Hindus celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi,
the birthday of Lord Ganesha. This 10-day festival honors the
elephant-headed son of Shiva and Parvati. Ganesha is the Hindu god of
wisdom, prosperity and good fortune.
    According to Hindu scripture,
Lord Shiva was away at war when his wife, Parvati, wanted to bathe.
Since no one was around to guard her door, she created a son of
sandalwood paste. Parvati breathed life into this son, and asked him to
stand at her door. When Lord Shiva returned shortly thereafter, the son
wouldn’t allow him to enter Parvati’s chambers. Lord Shiva, greatly
maddened, cut off Ganesha’s head. Parvati was infuriated by Lord
Shiva’s act. In
efforts to please her, legend has it that the first mother whose head
was turned from her young was found. This mother happened to be an
elephant, and the young elephant was beheaded. The young elephant’s
head was placed upon Ganesha. Since Parvati was still upset with Lord
Shiva, he proclaimed—in her honor—that those who worshiped
Ganesha before other gods would be looked upon with favor.
During Ganesh Chaturthi, devotees spend time in worship. They also may sing, play music, dance and cook modak (a dumpling
of rice flour filled with coconut or dried fruits). In the joy of the event, services such as free medical checkups
are available in some communities. Several artisans rely on enormous regional
festivals to bring in seasonal profits, and many compete to make the
largest or most elaborate Ganesha statue. These statues are venerated and also carried to a body of water and immersed.
Some benefits of Ganesh Chaturthi last throughout the year, one in
particular being the blessing of rice. Before a statue of Ganesha is
installed in a home, a handful of rice is placed on the chair where the
statue will sit. When the statue is worshipped, the rice underneath it
is, according to Hindu tradition, filled with energy. As a result,
Hindus believe that all of the rice in one’s house is simultaneously
given energy.
    This year, in light of the Swine Flu, birthday festivities may not be as elaborate; the Bharativa Janata Party has asked that Ganesh Chaturthi festivitiesbe kept to a minimum. As the Swine Flu Virus spreads in India, officials hope to halt the pandemic.


THIS WEEK, Ramadan is on the horizon as
Muslims around the world prepare for this month-long fast. Jains give
and grant forgiveness during their most important festival, Paryushana.
The United States marks the 50th anniversary of Hawaii as a state.
Meanwhile, Hindus may have to tone down the
scale of colorful and jubilant Ganesh Chaturthi events this year, in
light of the Swine Flu Virus. Read
all about these observances and happenings …

MONDAY, forgive others as the Jains do on Paryushana, arguably the most important festival in the Jain calendar. Many Jains meditate during these eight days (some sects of Jainism meditate for 10 days), believing that reflection upon one’s spiritual journey will
lead to a “washing away” of negative karma and sin. To aid in spiritual
cleansing, most Jains will listen to Dharma teaching and
practice self-control. The Dharma contains 10 components, generally
stated: forbearance; gentleness; uprightness; purity; truth;
self-restraint; austerity; renunciation; lack of possession and
    Translated as “to stay in one place,”
Paryushana originated from the staying in place of monks during the
rainy season. (Monks also stayed in one place during the
rainy season so as to not accidentally kill the many insects and small
animals that flourish in the rain). While monks used to spend the rainy season reflecting and asking forgiveness, all Jains now are expected to use Paryushana as a time to perform these deeds,
fast and listen to Jain scriptures. Some Jains devote themselves by
avoiding food for the entire eight (or 10) days  of the festival. For
strict fasters, even water must be boiled before consumption.
    No matter what the degree of devotion, however, all Jains use this time to look upon the past and ask forgiveness, repair broken relationships and forgive others.
Greetings to others bearing the words “Michchhami Dukkadam” mean “If I
have granted you any harm, may those bad deeds be forgiven.”
there a relationship in your life that is in need of restoration? Use
Paryushana as a reason to ask someone’s forgiveness or to grant yours
to someone else. (The photo at right is from a Jain temple in Ahmadabad, India.)

WEDNESDAY, Zoroastrians who follow the Shenshai calendar celebrate Jamshedi No(w)ruz,
or the New Year. As Persian myths credit a prehistoric Iranian king,
Jamshid, with the creation of the Zoroastrian calendar, the New Year
honors his name. The ancient Zoroastrian city of Persepolis (the photo at right shows columns remaining in this city) still has
depictions of nobility and representatives of the people of the empire
bearing gifts for the king on No(w)ruz.
    The majority of
Zoroastrians in India follow the Shenshai calendar, although many in the
diaspora of Zoroastrians partake in this later No(w)ruz, too. Traditionally,
a table is set of different foods—all of which, in the native
language, begin with the letter “s”—for the spirits of the deceased
on No(w)ruz
This table often contains seven foods: green sprouts, a pudding
made from sprouted grain, vinegar, apples, garlic, powdered sumac
seasoning and petite fruits. (In Zoroastrian tradition, this is a
reminder that there are seven emanations of God.) Many will also place
a photograph of
Zarathustra and a copy of the Avesta, or holy book, onto the table.
   Believers associate No(w)ruz with the beginning of new life (spring),
and at the end of time, Zoroastrians hold that the universe will be
created anew and that all of creation will be purified. One Zoroastrian
theorizes that the “Big Bang” was the first No(w)ruz, and that since there
were no seconds, minutes or hours during that time, the entire period
of the universe formation was No(w)ruz.

FRIDAY, the United States recognizes the 50th anniversary of its 50th state, Hawaii. Five decades ago today, this island paradise was declared a part of America.
Americans may have only recently discovered the Hawaiian islands, but
Polynesian travelers were inhabiting the lands of sand and volcanoes
more than 1,000 years before Europeans arrived. English explorer James Cook originally named Hawaii the Sandwich
Islands, in honor of the English Earl of Sandwich. Luckily, that name didn’t last long
    In 1840, Britain, France
and the United States recognized Hawaii as an independent kingdom, and
since Britain and France had intentions to someday control the islands,
King Kamehameha requested and was granted U.S. protection for his
kingdom in 1875. Hawaii became a republic in 1893, and was an annexed U.S. territory in 1900.
The U.S. was given permission to place a naval base at Pearl Harbor in
1887, although at the time of Japanese attack on December 7, 1941,
Hawaii was not yet a state. Following WWII, Hawaii began its path to
statehood. Hawaiian exports and economy grew under U.S. influence, and
today, more than 1 million people call the eight main islands “home.”
Of religious note is Hawaii’s long-honored Kapu system, which included
human sacrifice among its practices. After Christian missionaries
arrived in the early 1800s, however, King Kamehameha moved toward a Christian system. Famous Christian missionaries included
Protestant Hiram Bingham and Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day
Saints Joseph F. Smith.
   In  dedication to this year’s 50th anniversary, a tea ceremony for world peace was held at the state capitol in July, conducted by Great Grand Tea Master Genshitsu Sen.
A 50th anniversary conference will reflect upon the past 50 years and
will look ahead to the next 50. Attendees will study what Hawaii brings
to the global picture and how this state will define itself in the
future. Want to learn more? Hear from Hawaiians and get more facts at
the conference Web site.

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