Eid al-Fitr: Muslims celebrate Feast of the Breaking of the (Ramadan) Fast

Thousands of white-clad Muslims on floor of giant building, pillars among crowd, tiers filled with devotees

Muslims gather for Eid al-Fitr prayers at Istiqlal Mosque in Indonesia. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNSET FRIDAY, JULY 17: An entire month of sunrise-to-sunset fasting has ended for the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims, and the Islamic community transitions from the month of Ramadan to Shawwaal with the joyous festival of Eid al-Fitr.

The beginning date of Shawwaal—the 10th month of the Islamic calendar—varies slightly by location, as the date is determined by the sighting of the new moon. Many families excitedly await news of a new moon from Saudi Arabia, when an official sighting is declared from the land of Muhammad; others look to scholars or predictions closer to home. The atmosphere of revelry and celebration overflows out of mosques, homes and neighborhoods worldwide.

The first Eid was observed by the Prophet Muhammad in 624 CE, and today, Muslims everywhere wear their best clothing for special prayers, processions and elaborate shared meals.

Did you know? The common greetings on Eid al-Fitr are Eid Mubarak (“Blessed Eid”) and Eid Sa’id (“Happy Eid”).

The grand holiday of Eid al-Fitr is referred to in many ways: the Sugar Feast, Sweet Festival, Feast of the Breaking of the Fast, Bajram and Lesser Eid name just few. Though the month of Shawwaal officially begins just after sunset, most of the customary rituals of Eid al-Fitr begin several hours later.

Before sunrise on Eid al-Fitr, Muslims pray, bathe and put on their best clothing. (Wikipedia has details.) Perfume is sometimes worn for the occasion, and a small breakfast—usually dates—is consumed before heading to a nearby mosque, hall or open area. Muslim tradition holds that Eid prayers should be offered in congregation, and so this morning, Muslims fill mosques, parks, halls and even open fields for joyous prayer services. Zakat (charitable giving) has been completed, and adherents spend ample time enjoying the company of family and friends, attending carnivals and fireworks displays, giving gifts and expressing thanks to Allah.

Did you know? Eid al-Fitr is referred to as “Lesser Eid,” while Eid al-Adha—a separate holiday—is “Greater Eid.”

Tradition states that when Muhammad migrated from Mecca and arrived in Medina, he found the people there to be celebrating two special days, set aside for cheer and leisure. At this, Muhammad declared that the Almighty designated two alternate days for these purposes: Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha.

FROM ARABIA TO AUSTRALIA: EID AL-FITR ACROSS THE GLOBE

Eid al-Fitr is celebrated for one to three days, and in many Muslim communities, a central activity is the Eid prayers. Where possible, Muslims walk to the location of Eid prayers, and many use separate routes to and from the prayer grounds. Eid prayers are followed by a sermon, along with a request for God’s forgiveness and mercy. In turn, Muslims are urged to forgive others and put aside differences.

Desserts, sweet, sesame seeds, dried noodles, cream and nuts

Sweet treats are commonly consumed during the Eid al-Fitr holiday. Photo by Dani Armengol Garreta, courtesy of Flickr

In Saudi Arabia, it is not uncommon for shopkeepers to offer gifts with purchase prior to Eid, as a display of generosity. In some areas, men purchase large bags of rice and other basic food staples to leave anonymously on the doorsteps of the poor. In major cities, enormous fireworks shows take place each night of Eid celebrations. (View a slideshow of 2014 Eid activites here.) Egyptians observe Eid al-Fitr with days off from school and work, visiting family and spending days at local parks, theaters, beaches and carnivals. Television programs focus on Eid al-Fitr with movie marathons and live interviews featuring Eid commentaries. In Indonesia, one of the largest temporary human migrations takes place with Lebaran, the custom of workers returning to their home town to join in the revelries with their families. Since 1987, Australia has hosted the Multicultural Eid Festival and Fair in Sydney, catering to tens of thousands of attendees.

NEWS: A SCHOOL HOLIDAY, DATES & A $100 BILLION INDUSTRY

Last March, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio officially declared Islam’s two most-observed holidays—Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha—public school holidays. (Huffington Post reported.) The duo was the first religious addition to the academic calendar since the Jewish High Holy Days, in 1960. Throughout Ramadan and during the Eid al-Fitr holidays, dates are one of the most commonly consumed foods: Muslims eat the fruit alone, as part of a sweet dessert or even incorporated into a savory dish. Learn all about the variety and uses of dates—plus access a wide array of tantalizing recipes—in this article from the New York Times. As experts estimate that Muslim spending in America comprises a $100 billion industry, top designers like Giorgio Armani, Tommy Hilfiger and DKNY are taking to the runway with Muslim-inspired designs for Ramadan and Eid. (Read more here.) The largest celebrations take place during the Eid al-Fitr holidays, though industry specialists are advising incoming brands to understand the holidays before trying to “break in” to the market.

Looking for both savory and sweet recipes for Eid al-Fitr? Check out the BBC.

Lailat al-Qadr: Muslims observe holiest of Ramadan, Night of Power

Mosque lit at night from exterior

For Laylat al-Qadr, Muslims spend the night in prayer and Quran study. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

STARTING SUNSET TUESDAY, JULY 7 (OR an odd-numbered night in the last 10 days of Ramadan): The holiest night of the Islamic year has arrives for Muslims worldwide with the Night of Power (Laylat al-Qadr). Known by many names—Night of Value, Night of Destiny, Night of Measure—Muslims note the anniversary of the night the Quran was first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad via the angel Gabriel.

It is believed that on this sacred night, verses of the Quran were relayed to Muhammad in the year 610 CE, and angels descended to earth for the event. (Learn more from On Islam.) If a devoted Muslim prays in earnest for forgiveness of sins on Laylat al-Qadr and reads the Quran, it’s believed that the night is “better than 1,000 months.” Sins are forgiven and blessings are manifold.

I’TIKAF & FINAL DAYS OF RAMADAN

Muslims who can afford to spend the final 10 days of Ramadan in the mosque may choose to observe a form of worship known as I’tikaf. A fast observed during the day is supplemented with intense prayer and Quran study both day and night. (Wikipedia has details.) Nighttime meals are provided by most mosques to I’tikaf participants. Ten days of observance are ideal, but some participants follow the practice for shorter periods. Both men and women are encouraged to observe I’tikaf.

Muhammad did not reveal precisely when the Night of Power occurred. The 27th day of Ramadan is a traditionally held date, but as many of the odd-numbered nights in the last 10 days of Ramadan are still observed.

IN THE NEWS:

A YOUTUBE LECTURE AND RAMADAN IN NIGERIA & MOROCCO

Muslims and non-Muslims can gain additional insight into Ramadan’s holiest night with this YouTube lecture by Dr. Zakir Naik, who explains Laylat al-Qadr. For an international perspective of Islam around the world, check out articles from AllAfrica and Morocco World News, explaining Nigerian Muslim views on Ramadan and Moroccans’ five most cherished Ramadan traditions.

Ramadan: World’s 1.6 billion Muslims begin month of fasting, charity

Ornate pewter silver cups one holding fresh dates on neutral table

Traditionally, the daytime fast of Ramadan is broken with three dates. Photo by Ministry of Information and Communications and Technology, courtesy of Flickr

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.

100-QA-Muslim-Large-Book-120x180Are 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.

The-Beauty-of-Ramadan-cover 120x180Want 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.

Looking for traditional recipes this Ramadan? Look to AllRecipes and Epicurious for a generous selection.

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.

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.

Ramadan: Billion Muslims tackle the most difficult fast in decades

Holed star lit up, strings of lights lit between buildings at nighttime

Star and crescent moon decorations. like the ones above in Jerusalem, are common during Ramadan. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNSET MONDAY, JULY 8: The month-long fast of Ramadan has not been this close to the Summer Solstice—the year’s longest daylight hours in the Northern Hemisphere—since the mid 1980s. Because the Muslim calendar is based on lunar cycles, Islamic holidays and festivals keep moving nearly two weeks earlier, each year, when compared with the international calendar. This means that, in 2013, the millions of Muslims living in the Northern Hemisphere will be fasting—without a single drop of water passing their lips—during the year’s longest and hottest days.

Important note: Most major American Muslim centers are urging their communities to begin the fast at dawn on Tuesday, but the exact dates of the fasting month always vary around the world. In recent days, a report by astronomers from the United Arab Emirates (situated near Saudi Arabia) indicates that Muslims in that part of the world may start their fast one day later. The astronomers calculated that it wouldn’t be possible to sight the new month’s crescent moon on Monday night, since the moon and sun would set together on that date.

sm Najah Bazzy cover The Beauty of Ramadan

Click the cover to learn more about the book.

Wherever Muslims live in the Northern hemisphere, health is a huge issue this year. Muslim leaders and public-health officials in many countries are issuing safety advisories, including information for Muslims who are diabetic. A UK campaign is aimed at educating Muslims on how to maintain health throughout the month. (Get details here.) Silver Star, a charity foundation, has organized the “Staying Healthy During Ramadan” initiative, sending representatives to mosques and instructing participants on how to control blood glucose levels.

Read the Spirit publishes The Beauty of Ramadan: A Guide to the Muslim Month of Prayer and Fasting for Muslims and non-Muslims, researched and written by cross-cultural health-care expert Najah Bazzy. In her book, Bazzy includes an entire section on health advisories. Islam is a practical faith, Bazzy writes, and makes many exceptions for the safety of men and women. Although the fast of Ramadan is among the strictest in world religion, it is not forbidden for people to use their inhalers for respiratory conditions or to take insulin injections for diabetes. There are many other exceptions detailed in her book.

“Islam is very careful to encourage Muslims to be moderate in all things, to strive to find the correct balance in life,” Bazzy writes.

SEND A RAMADAN GREETING TO FRIENDS AND COLLEAGUES

Given the challenges, this year, you may want to send a kind greeting for Ramadan to friends, colleagues or neighbors right now. This week, the popular Our Values series is reporting on 5 Surprising Things about Ramadan, including today’s first column about the culture of greeting Muslim neighbors during Ramadan. In the column are ideas for quickly sending your own greeting.

RAMADAN PREPARATIONS AROUND THE WORLD

Ramadan involves such a vast portion of the world’s population that it affects global markets for foods related to breaking the fast each night. While Ramadan is a month-long fast, each night’s meal with family and friends is a delight—some American Muslims have compared the nights of Ramadan to a long series of Thanksgiving dinners.

Dates in a Moroccan market

Dates in a Moroccan market. Photo by Dan Huntington released for public use via Wikimedia Commons.

Because dates are traditionally chosen as the first bites enjoyed as night falls, governments in countries with major Muslim populations try to ensure that merchants don’t gouge for dates, among other popular commodities.

In Bangladesh, the Dhaka Tribune recently reported: “Historically, it is evident that the level of consumption hikes up during the fasting month of Ramdan every year. Supply shortage, coupled with the hike in demand triggered by increased consumption, takes the price of most food products beyond affordability of lower-middle and lower income groups of people during Ramadan.” Nevertheless, the Tribune reported, sufficient food quantities seem to be available as the fasting month approaches.

Pre-Ramadan commodity reports are moving onto the front pages of newspapers across Asia and the Middle East. One report from Saudi Arabia says there may be a shortage of dates this year. A news story from Indonesia says the government is increasing imports of cattle from Australia to ensure there will be enough beef for Ramadan-night dinners. Another report from an Indonesian trade ministry claims that stocks of flour, sugar, cooking oil and eggs are at high levels in the wholesale supply chain for grocery stores. Families need not worry, the ministry reports, although the price of beef is rising.

RAMADAN CUSTOMS: ZAKAT, LANTERNS AND MORE

Colorful plastic Ramadan lanterns are on display in an Egyptian market for shoppers who want to decorate their homes. Photo by B. Simpson released for public use via Wikimedia Commons.

Colorful plastic Ramadan lanterns are on display in an Egyptian market for shoppers who want to decorate their homes. Photo by B. Simpson released for public use via Wikimedia Commons.

Preparing a donation—an offering of zakat—is common in Ramadan, with a special focus on helping poor families properly observe the fasting month as well as the major festival of thanksgiving as the fasting month ends. This practice is zakat al-fitr, or giving for the breaking of the fast. This year, the Eid al-Fitr, or the Holiday of Breaking the Fast, will fall around August 7. Muslim leaders in regions around the world determine the final date for the Eid, which can vary even within a single country.

Ramadan begins with the sighting of a crescent moon and, these days, Muslim authorities commonly consulting scientists to determine the proper first day. Islamic news releases around the first day of Ramadan, now, commonly remind the world that Muslims have a centuries-old history of encouraging developments in science, math and astronomy.

In preparation for this shift to night-time festivities as each day’s fast ends, Muslim communities around the world often are strung with lanterns, glowing stars and crescent ornaments. Mosque doors will be open all night for Muslims hoping to spend extra time in prayer—and huge crowds are anticipated at many Islamic centers across the U.S. for Ramadan-night programs.

Popular Muslim centers host famous orators who are invited to recite the entire text of the Quran during Ramadan’s four weeks. (Catch live webcasting of Taraweeh prayers, check out a Hadith of the Day or look up nationwide prayer times at IslamiCity.) Muslims believe that the rewards for prayer, zakat and a devoted fast are multiplied during this, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar.

In her book, Najah Bazzy quotes an English translation of the Prophet Muhammad’s own sermon about Ramadan, which says in part: “O People! The month of God (Ramadan) has approached you with His mercy and blessings. This is the month that is the best of all months in the estimation of God. Its days are the best among the days; its nights are the best among the nights. Its hours are the best among the hours.

Once Ramadan has begun, Muslims eat their first pre-fast meal before sunrise, known as suhoor. (As the Muslim community is so culturally diverse, there is no typical suhoor food.) From sunrise to sunset, Muslims abstain from food, liquids, smoking and sexual intimacy. The fast also is supposed to include the elimination of evil intentions and deeds. Bazzy writes that Muslims are challenged to avoid all forms of ill will: “A person must not gossip, lie, covet or steal.” She adds: “The mindset or mental preparation for the fast is as important as the fast itself.”

IFTAR MEAL & HOLIDAYS WITHIN RAMADAN

At sunset each night, Muslim families halt their activities for the joyous iftar, or fast-breaking evening meal. As Muhammad broke his Ramadan fast with three dates, most Muslims continue his practice. Prayer follows, and then the expansive iftar meal is served. In the Middle East, several beverages, salads, appetizers, entrees and desserts make up a well-planned iftar. Entrees are usually traditional, ranging from lamb with wheat berries to roasted chicken with chickpea stuffing.

Care to taste what many Muslim families will enjoy at iftar? Feed the Spirit columnist Bobbie Lewis is beginning a two-part column on favorite Ramadan recipes from an Afghani-American family. Her first column includes a recipe for a wonderfully spicy-and-savory vegetarian stuffed flat bread.

Enjoy a good movie after dinner? Film critic Ed McNulty serves up A Baker’s Dozen: 13 Best Films on Food and Faith, which includes Hollywood favorites as well as one feature film about fasting in Ramadan.

During the last 10 days of Ramadan, the Prophet became especially rigorous in his nightly prayer and daytime worship, even taking up temporary social isolation. Most Muslims consider the last one-third of Ramadan to be an even stricter period, and Laylat al-Qadr, the “night of power,” falls during this time. Adherents believe that the first revelation of the Quran was sent to Muhammad on this night, and thus worship is considered “better than one thousand months.”

RAMADAN 2013:
FROM THE GRAND MOSQUE TO CANADIAN TAXIS

Hand holding black strand of prayer beads

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

In Egypt, a male-only soap opera is creating buzz as it debuts during Ramadan, the country’s busiest and most lucrative television season. Creators of the show, called Coffee Shop, say that they wanted to create an alternative to the sexualized content of most TV series. (The Guardian covered the story.) Catering to a conservative Egyptian population won’t be difficult, creators say, since coffee shops are typically male environments on the streets of Egypt anyway.

After seven months of construction in Saudi Arabia on the Grand Mosque’s Mataf, the vast area where pilgrims move around the sacred Kabaa, workers will halt for the entirety of Ramadan. With massive crowds expected during the month, the Grand Mosque will be in full use, even if crowded, a problem that will be solved once the expansion project is complete in 2015. (Read the story in the Saudi Gazette.) At project end, the Mataf will double its current capacity.

In Canada, Muslim taxi drivers will be accommodated for Ramadan despite the surge of tourists expected for the Calgary Stampede. (The CPC reports.) At the city’s busiest time of year, Calgary’s taxi drivers—an estimated 40 percent of whom are Muslim—will be provided a centrally located area to pray, so that they can minimize their time off-duty while still adhering to the obligations of Ramadan.

Care to read more about America’s growing religious diversity? Check out this series of columns by Michigan State University’s journalism professor Joe Grimm.

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(Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion, spirituality, interfaith news and cross-cultural issues.)