MONDAY, AUGUST 1: Top Muslim leaders across the United States have decreed that Monday August 1 is the first official day of the month-long Ramadan fast. However, don’t be surprised if some Muslim neighbors or colleagues begin fasting before August 1—some start early out of devotion and some prefer to practice fasting before Ramadan so that they won’t slip up when the official month begins.
More than 1 billion Muslims around the world mark Ramadan. But, millions of Muslims don’t fast at all. Islam is a practical faith that exempts children, pregnant women, travelers and people with health conditions that could be threatened by such a fast. Ramadan is a strict fast—meaning that nothing passes the lips during daylight hours. Many Christians are familiar with milder forms of fasting such as giving up a single meal or giving up meat. Muslims do not permit even a sip of water during the day.
Do you have Muslim friends or relatives? Show some compassion this year! With record-setting heat in parts of the U.S. this summer, Muslims are bracing themselves for one of the most difficult Ramadan fasts in years. That’s because Ramadan “moves” each year. Islamic months are marked by lunar cycles, so the Ramadan fast slowly moves “backwards” through the common calendar. This year, the fast takes place during August. In 2012, Ramadan begins in mid-July. Those long, hot days of fasting are a challenge to anyone’s stamina. In countries where Muslims are the majority, people tend to sleep or nap during the day—then they are active through much of the night. That day-for-night reversal doesn’t work well in the U.S., of course.
Know a Muslim friend? This year, remember to wish them well—and keep a compassionate watch on Muslim students, athletes and co-workers during those scorching August days. Muslims will need to take more breaks this year.
North American FIQH Council: Ramadan Starts August 1
The North American FIQH Council is similar to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops or the United Methodist General Conference. Most religious groups have some national body that issues well-researched rulings on matters of faith. The FIQH Council is made up of prominent imams from across the U.S. who discuss and share their thoughts on major issues.
The FIQH Council has its Ramadan decree posted on its website. The council made headlines some years ago when it issued a fatwa, a scholarly Muslim judgment, condemning acts of terrorism, forbidding Muslims from cooperating with terrorists in any way—and requiring Muslims to cooperate with law-enforcement officials to track down terrorists.
The Islamic Society of North America website also has posted the FIQH Council announcement. Islam does not have a top-down structure like some Christian denominations, so Muslims around the world are free to make their own judgments on matters of faith. But, these official postings by these two major groups pretty much ensure that the American Ramadan fast starts on August 1.
Ramadan Is Special: Night of Power and Revelation of Quran
Muslim families around the world try to enjoy the entire text of the Quran during Ramadan. They may read the sacred book aloud or visit mosques to listen to nightly recitations of the Quran. The crescendo of Ramadan spirituality is the Night of Power, or Laylat al-Qadr. That’s the annual observance of what Muslims believe was the revelation of the Quran by God to the Prohpet Muhammad.
In her book “The Beauty of Ramadan,” Najah Bazzy tries to explain to non-Muslims the spiritual significance of this night for Muslims. In her chapter on the Night of Power, she describes an occasion with the spiritual impact of Yom Kippur for Jews or Holy Week for Christians. Penance, self-denial and confession to God produce an occasion when men and women open themselves to God’s grace in a special way. “This is a night of spiritual grandeur like no other night throughout the year. It has been said, perhaps in symbolic terms, that this night literally sets the determination for mercy until the following month of Ramadan. The specific night is not clearly known but indications are that it happens on a night during the last 10 days of Ramadan,” Najah Bazzy writes.
Stay tuned to ReadTheSpirit’s Holidays column for more news as Ramadan unfolds.
Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online journal covering religion and cultural diversity.