Muslim: What Do The NFL, Egyptian Cafes and Indonesian Households Have In Common? Ramadan, Of Course!

WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 11: More than 1 billion Muslims around the world start a month-long fast today, as the Islamic month of Ramadan officially begins. During the hours between sunrise and sunset, Muslims are required—as one of the Five Pillars of Islam—to refrain from eating, drinking and sexual activities and to focus their attention on Allah. Despite Western stereotypes, Muslims take pride in their faith’s compassionate flexibility, in this case exempting younger children, pregnant women, travelers and anyone for whom fasting poses a health risk.

Muslims believe that the Quran was revealed during the month of Ramadan, and so this has become the most holy month of their calendar year. Traditionally, the start of Ramadan has been officiated by moon sightings, although modern methods have made predictions quite accurate. According to the Fiqh Council of North America, the Astronomical New Moon at 11:08 a.m. in Makkah (Mecca) makes today the first day of fasting for Ramadan 2010. Ramadan’s first prayer, known as Tarawih, was said last night. (Muslims can look up their local prayer times at site IslamicCity.)

Although Ramadan is an Islamic holiday, it surely doesn’t affect only the 1 to 1.8 billion global Muslims—and in fact, Ramadan greatly impacts many non-Muslims in every facet of life. Professional sports were linked to Ramadan when a recent newspaper article featured the struggles of a player dealing with fasting during football season. (Read the article here.) Despite grueling practices in the hot sun, Minnesota Vikings player Husain Abdullah won’t break his fast for even a drink of water—and a coach, nutritionists and fellow teammates felt the strain in past years until, this year, a specialized nutrition plan has been created to help Abdullah. Across the globe, in Indonesia, the wealthy feel the difference when their nannies, maids and other domestic workers return for the holy month. (Read more in the NYT article.) While some non-Muslim Indonesians hire temporary maids, many others take month-long vacations or check into nearby hotels for the month.

If you are not Muslim yourself, you may have a Muslim neighbor or co-worker, so take time this month to learn more about this sacred Islamic tradition. ReadTheSpirit recognizes the importance of Ramadan and we publish a book, “The Beauty of Ramadan,” that describes Ramadan traditions. If you want to read more about Islam and read stories about American men, women and children describing their experiences with the fast of Ramadan, explore ReadTheSpirit’s special SharingIslam blog. The top story in the blog is an interview with America’s top expert on Islam, Dr. John Esposito.

While focusing on spirituality by avoiding physical cravings or needs, many Muslims take time during Ramadan to read the entire Quran, say extra prayers and ask for forgiveness. The faithful practice good works, too, by giving to charity and preparing foods for those who have less. (Wikipedia has details.) Yet although daytime hours are spent in deep reflection, most Islamic countries see a great reversal at night—once the sun sets, streets are abuzz, cities light up with open markets and packed cafes, and many Muslims visit friends and family. (Words not enough? See for yourself by checking out a slideshow of recent photos from Cairo, Egypt, during Ramadan.) After all, while Ramadan is a solemn tradition in Islam, it’s also a time of happiness and joy.

(By ReadTheSpirit columnist Stephanie Fenton)

(NOTE: To see more short articles about upcoming holidays, festivals and anniversaries, click the “RTS Magazines” tab at the top of this page and select “Religious Holidays.”)

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