Ramadan: Muslims (and Islamic World Cup athletes, too) observe month of fasting

“And whosoever of you is present, let him fast the month, and whosoever of you is sick or on a journey, a number of other days. Allah desires for you ease; He desires not hardship for you; and that you should complete the period, and that you should magnify Allah for having guided you, and that perhaps you may be thankful.”
Quran

Line of men on rug outdoors, between mosques, as sun peeks over the horizon

Men pray at the ‘Blue Mosque’ in Afghanistan, during Ramadan. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNSET SATURDAY, JUNE 28: Athletes at World Cup Brazil 2014 have been gearing up for weeks; the United Arab Emirates announced the official date; Muslim astronomers have been seeking sight of the crescent moon: Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting, begins with the rising of the sun on June 29 for millions of Muslims around the world.

NOTE: Because the Muslim calendar moves with lunar cycles—and some still rely on physical sightings of the moon—the start of the fast can vary by nation, community and even by individual practice. Even Google’s global listing for the start of Ramadan cites the evening of June 28—then prominently adds the disclaimer: “Dates may vary.”

During daylight hours for the next month—until July 28 (again, dates may vary)—observant Muslims will fast from food, drink, smoking, swearing and sexual relations, all the while studying the Quran and deepening their relationship with Allah. Ramadan is one of the Five Pillars of Islam and is obligatory for all physically able and of-age adherents.

For Muslims, Ramadan is a worldwide experience of community. In predominantly Muslim countries, the entire population seems to “switch day for night,” to accommodate the physical demands of the fast on long, hot summer days. In many towns, early-morning criers run through the streets or broadcast from towers that the day’s fast is about to begin.

These adaptations make it easier to keep the fast. School and work hours often are shortened for the month. At night, streets are filled with lanterns and restaurants are full. After sunset, the first major meal—aside from three date fruits, which traditionally break the fast—is known as the iftar. Today, the iftar has grown into an occasion for massive gatherings with family and friends. (Wikipedia has details.)

Buffet-style banquets ensue and tables overflow with traditional dishes. In the Middle East, an iftar might include salads, lamb stewed with wheat berries or grilled vegetables, roast chicken and rich baklava and other desserts. In many public squares, symbolic decorations are hung and lanterns are adorned with crescent moons.

LEARN MORE ABOUT RAMADAN

Najah Bazzy cover The Beauty of RamadanReadTheSpirit publishes The book—the essential guidebook, that is—about Ramadan customs. Written by cross-cultural health-care expert Najah Bazzy, The Beauty of Ramadan is full of fascinating customs, health concerns and inspirational readings about Ramadan. It’s a great choice for professionals who work in diverse communities to understand the Muslim experience of the fasting month.

A brief passage from her book explains Muslim appreciation of this special month:

“Exercising a person’s will power to refrain from the everyday dependency on food, drink, smoke, sex and other basic human needs teaches our very selfish brain to be that which it is not – disciplined! Having the ability to say “NO” teaches the lesson of self-control. Self-control is paramount in having a morally mindful and God-conscious personality. Health-care providers have been using behavior modification techniques quite a bit in recent years, especially for weight control, drug abuse, and other physical, mental, or emotional disorders. However, God has ordained fast as a behavior modification for thousands of years in our human history.”

5 Surprises of Ramadan

For Ramadan 2013, the OurValues project published a special five-part series on “Surprises of Ramadan”—featuring news stories that tend to debunk myths about Islam and the fasting month. Some details are dated, a year later, but some of these stories (and accompanying videos) still are surprising … and downright fun. Example: Camel’s milk anyone?

FEED THE SPIRIT

FeedTheSpirit host Bobbie Lewis has published two columns about Parwin Anwar and her family. The first column describes their journey and cultural transition from Afghanistan to the United States.  Then, in a second column with Anwar, Bobbie features a favorite Ramadan recipe for flat bread.

SPECIAL DAYS DURING RAMADAN

During this sacred period, two days stand out among the rest: Laylat al-Qadr, “Night of Power,” and Eid al-Fitr, “celebration of breaking the fast.” Laylat al-Qadr, the most holy night of the year, is believed to have been when the first revelation of the Quran to Muhammad, the central event honored during the month of Ramadan. The faithful regard worship on Laylat al-Qadr as “better than one thousand months,” and therefore pray diligently. The joyful Eid al-Fitr occurs on the first day of the month following Ramadan, Shawwal. After a month of strict fasting, Eid al-Fitr brings unfettered joy, daytime feasts and merry gatherings with family and friends.

IN THE NEWS:
WORLD CUP ATHLETES,
EXPANSIONS IN MECCA
& BLOOD DONOR PLEAS

Two years ago, international headlines were buzzing with stories of Olympic athletes managing the restrictions of the Ramadan fast; this year—the first, since 1986—Ramadan will fall during the World Cup, and journalists are scurrying to interview the effected athletes in Brazil. With soaring temperatures and high humidity in Brazil, playing professional rounds of soccer will be no easy task without food or water during daylight hours. (Read more from On Islam or ABNA.) Approaches to the challenge vary: Some athletes have sought permission to delay fasting, while others have vowed to consume not even a drop of water during Ramadan. One athlete, the Ivory Coast’s Kolo Toure, even told reporters that Ramadan makes him “feel even stronger.”

In Mecca, preparations for crowd management during Ramadan have been underway for weeks, as officials finalize plans to accommodate both visitors and the massive construction areas at the Grand Mosque. (Arab News reported.) Security guards have undergone special orientations classes to prepare for the influx of visitors.

Pleas are being made for Muslims to donate blood before leaving for Mecca or starting the Ramadan fast, reported Gulf News. As the dietary restrictions of Ramadan ensure significantly fewer donors during the month—in the United Arab Emirates, in particular—but no less need for blood, experts are asking that Muslims make extra effort to donate before the start of Ramadan.

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