SUNSET WEDNESDAY, JUNE 17: As a crescent moon emerges and is spotted around the globe, the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims begin the month of Ramadan. Remember, though: Starting dates vary by location and method of calculation. Some Muslim groups use astronomical data; others sight the moon by human eye.
As the Islamic calendar is lunar, the beginning and end of Ramadan is based on a crescent moon sighting. The crescent typically appears 1-2 days after the astronomical new moon. The end of Ramadan—the ninth month of the Islamic calendar—is met with Eid al-Fitr, a festival of the breaking of the fast. Eid al-Fitr marks the beginning of the next lunar month, Shawwal, and a time of great feasting.
Did you know? In Saudi Arabia, a panel of scholars base proclamations for the start of Ramadan on moon sightings; in Turkey and France, predictions are made based on astronomical calculations. Religious authorities in Egypt and Kuwait coordinate their announcements with those of Saudi Arabia.
Are you surprised at the size of the Muslim population? This is the world’s most rapidly growing religious group and, this week, University of Michigan sociologist Dr. Wayne Baker is reporting on the latest research about Muslim communities around the world.
Do you know Muslim friends, neighbors or co-workers? Michigan State University’s Joe Grimm reports this week on an easy way to reach out during Ramadan in a friendly way. As ReadTheSpirit’s veteran Holidays columnist, I wrote a special portion of the new MSU guidebook on Muslim Americans about Islamic holidays and festivals.
Want to really dig deep into the traditions of Ramadan? Perhaps you are Muslim and have deeper questions. Or, you’re a health-care or public-service professional and want to know more about issues like health care during Ramadan? The best book for an in-depth exploration of the fasting month is The Beauty of Ramadan, written by nationally known cross-cultural health care expert Najah Bazzy.
WHAT IS THIS FAST?
Fasting is a tradition in nearly all of the world’s great faiths—but the word “fasting” can refer to many different practices. In some traditions, giving up meat or other kinds of foods is a fast. In other groups, a fast may be the elimination of a single meal—or may refer to avoiding food, but not liquids.
Muslims will observe the month of Ramadan with a strict sunrise-to-sunset fast, which means that nothing passes the lips during those hours. No food. No liquid. No smoking. Such a fast is very difficult as the lunar cycle of the Muslim year moves ever earlier during each calendar year. In 2015, Ramadan begins during some of the longest daylight periods in the Northern Hemisphere.
That’s why: If you have a Muslim friend or co-worker—wish them well. They’ll be struggling this year.
Meanwhile, during Ramadan, prayer is increased as is reading from the Quran. According to Muslim belief, the first revelation of the Quran to Muhammad occurred during Ramadan, and as such, observance of the month is one of the Five Pillars of Islam. Many Muslim communities around the world invite special vocal interpreters of the Quran to come to mosques and chant the sacred text, night after night, until the entire holy book is completed.
WHAT IS EATEN DURING RAMADAN?
During the month of Ramadan, Muslims partake in a pre-dawn meal known as the Suhoor, and do not return to eating until after sunset. Three dates customarily break the fast each day, and an iftar meal is often an occasion for social gatherings, large feasts and buffet-style hosting. (Wikipedia has details.) Traditional foods, ranging from lamb with wheat berries and roast chicken with vegetables to baklava, are typically on the Ramadan iftar table.
Occasionally, Muslims describe the night-time iftar tradition as “like a series of Thanksgiving dinners,” because friends and family often visit each other during the nights of Ramadan—and, often, favorite dishes are prepared for these feasts.
Did you know? In many Muslim countries, lights and lanterns illuminate the night during Ramadan, to accentuate the festivities and feasting.
GIVING IN RAMADAN
In addition to fasting, Muslims donate to charity during Ramadan. Charity, known as zakat, or “the poor-rate,” is an obligatory action. Muslims are also encouraged to read the entire Quran each Ramadan.
The government of Dubai is cracking down on beggars this Ramadan—even social-media-savvy ones—as it reports that many beggars fly into the region specifically to appeal to Muslims with a desire to give during Ramadan. Learn more from The National/UAE.
Note: Laylat al-Qadr, or the “night of power,” is considered the holiest night of the year and commemorates the night the first revelation of the Quran was sent to Muhammad. Laylat al-Qadr is believed to have taken place on an odd-numbered night during the last 10 days of Ramadan, and those who are able to pray as often as possible during these days in a practice known as I’tikaf.
Religious apps have rocketed in popularity among young Muslims, with abilities to calculate prayer times based on location, the exact time the fast ends each day and even provide suggestions on how to volunteer or give to charity. Read all about the top (free) apps for 2015 here.
Independence Day on June 4? The U.S. Embassy in Indonesia celebrated America’s Fourth of July on June 4 this year, so as to avoid conflict with the month of Ramadan.
Wondering how Muslims in the Arctic observe the fast? The Atlantic reported in 2013.