Ramadan: Muslims fast, observe traditions amid social distancing

Woman in hijab on prayer rug, head down

Photo by Staff Sgt. Enjoli Saunders, courtesy of U.S. Air Force

SUNSET THURSDAY, APRIL 23: The world’s 1.8 billion Muslims—nearly a quarter of Earth’s population—begin the month of Ramadan, as a crescent moon appears and is spotted around the globe. (Note: Starting dates in communities around the world may vary by location and by method of calculation.)

As the Islamic calendar is lunar, the beginning and end of Ramadan is based on a crescent moon sighting that is typically visible 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 is a time of great feasting and family celebrations.

RAMADAN AND THE 2020 PANDEMIC

Empty mosque Ramadan

Many mosques are expected to remain empty (or near-empty) of worshipers through Ramadan. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

As the three Abrahamic faiths—Islam, Christianity and Judaism—observe major holiday periods during April in 2020, the global coronavirus pandemic is forcing billions to reconsider how they celebrate. With social distancing mandatory across most of the world, the feasts and large gatherings typically associated with these holiday periods are taking place virtually, instead: videoconferencing tools are helping to connect many faith adherents.

This year, many of the traditions typically associated with Ramadan are being cancelled: Iran’s supreme leader recently suggested that mass gatherings be barred during Ramadan (read more from AP News), and Saudi Arabia suspended travel to its holiest sites in late February. While many Muslims complete umrah, an optional pilgrimage to Mecca, in the months prior to and during Ramadan, that will not be possible this year—and the sites at Mecca and Medina are nearly empty for the first time in centuries. In many communities across the Middle East, a pre-dawn awakening via drumming harkens Muslims to the suhoor, or pre-dawn meal. This year, the tradition will be halted in most communities. (Read more here.)

As fasting is mandatory during Ramadan (with exceptions for children, some women and those ill or traveling), this primary observation can still be conducted, at home. The iftar, or meal breaking the fast each evening, will this year be held in individual households and not shared among many.

To connect with Muslim adherents, many mosques and organizations have set up online webinars, video conferences, live streaming and more. In some parts of the Middle East, the athaan—call to prayer—that is amplified from mosques will, this year, be altered to include the phrase “pray in your homes” instead of “come to pray.”

FASTING & DATES

Dates in hand, Ramadan

It is tradition to break the Ramadan fast with dates. Photo by Marco Verch, courtesy of Flickr

Muslims observe the month of Ramadan with a strict sunrise-to-sunset fast, which means that nothing passes the lips during those hours. All food and drink (including water) is prohibited. Meanwhile, 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. 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—with the iftar. Three dates customarily break the fast each day of Ramadan, prior to the iftar.

 

 

BEYOND FASTING …

 

Najah Bazzy, author of The Beauty of Ramadanreminds readers in her opening pages that Ramadan is about far more than denial of food and water during daylight hours. Bazzy, a nationally known expert on cross-cultural healthcare, covers many of the health-related issues in her book. But she calls on a traditional text credited to the Prophet Muhammad for the deeper meaning of this special month. In addition to fasting, prayer and Quran study:

Give alms to the poor and the needy. Pay respect to your elders. Have pity on those younger than you and be kind toward your relatives and kinsmen. Guard your tongues against unworthy words, and your eyes from such scenes that are forbidden and your ears from such sounds as should not be heard. Be kind to orphans.

 

ZAKAT GIVING & ‘NIGHT OF POWER’

In addition to fasting, Muslims donate to charity during Ramadan. Charity, known as zakat, sometimes translated as “the poor-rate,” is an obligatory practice. This year, experts are anticipating that a majority of zakat will take place online.

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. Around the Islamic world, traditions vary for identifying the date of Laylat al-Qadr—though it is generally believed to fall on one of the odd-numbered nights of the last 10 days of Ramadan.

Ramadan: Muslims fast during ‘longest days’ of the calendar year

Woman stands below grand ceiling, hands raised, looking at ceiling, in dress and headscarf

A Muslim woman offers a Ramadan prayer. Photo by Thamer Al-Hassan, courtesy of Flickr

SUNSET FRIDAY, MAY 26: As a crescent moon appears and is spotted around the globe, the world’s 1.8 billion Muslims—nearly a quarter of Earth’s population—begin the month of Ramadan. (Note: Starting dates in communities around the world may vary by location and by method of calculation.)

Because the Islamic calendar is lunar, the beginning and end of Ramadan is based on a crescent moon sighting that is typically visible 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 is a time of great feasting and family celebrations. The majority of our readers live in North America—and, this year, the Islamic Society of North America, says the Eid will begin on Sunday June 25.

As Ramadan moves slowly around the Gregorian calendar, 2017 will cover some of the “longest” days of the year in the Northern Hemisphere—which, for observant Muslims, equates to more hours of daytime fasting. This year, Ramadan will incorporate the summer solstice, on June 20—the “longest” day of the year for those living in the North.

A GROWING POPULATION

This spring, the Pew Research Center’s analysis of global religious trends reports that—based on worldwide patterns of childbirth—Islam is likely to emerge as the world’s most rapidly growing religion in the years ahead. You can download the complete report here in PDF format. That Pew report is the source of our reference above to 1.8 billion as the world’s current Muslim population. Christianity remains the world’s largest religion with 2.3 billion adherents, Pew reports.

MORE THAN FASTING …

The Beauty of Ramadan by Najah Bazzy front cover (1)

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

Najah Bazzy, author of The Beauty of Ramadanreminds readers in her opening pages that Ramadan is about far more than denial of food and water during daylight hours. Bazzy, a nationally known expert on cross-cultural healthcare, covers many of the health-related issues in her book. But she calls on a traditional text credited to the Prophet Muhammad for the deeper meaning of this special month. In addition to fasting, prayer and Quran study:

Give alms to the poor and the needy. Pay respect to your elders. Have pity on those younger than you and be kind toward your relatives and kinsmen. Guard your tongues against unworthy words, and your eyes from such scenes that are forbidden and your ears from such sounds as should not be heard. Be kind to orphans.

Bazzy’s book explains much more about the rich experience of this month for Muslim families. It also clearly explains a lot about the month’s practices, making the book helpful for educators, anyone in public service and neighbors or co-workers with Muslim friends.

FASTING & IFTAR

Fasting is a tradition in nearly all of the world’s great faiths—but the word “fasting” can refer to many different forms of this ancient tradition. 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 it may refer to avoiding food, but not liquids.

Three dates in wooden bowl

Three dates are traditionally consumed at the end of each day’s fast during Ramadan. Photo courtesy of YouTube

Muslims observe the month of Ramadan with a strict sunrise-to-sunset fast, which means that nothing passes the lips during those hours. All food and drink (including water) is prohibited. Meanwhile, 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.

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—with the iftar.

Three dates customarily break the fast each day of Ramadan, and an iftar meal is often an occasion for social gatherings, large feasts and buffet-style hosting. 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 favorite dishes frequently are prepared for these feasts.

A lantern with colored glass on each side, reflecting colors onto walls around it

A Ramadan lantern. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

ZAKAT GIVING & ‘NIGHT OF POWER’

In addition to fasting, Muslims donate to charity during Ramadan. Charity, known as zakat, sometimes translated as “the poor-rate,” is an obligatory practice.

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. Around the Islamic world, traditions vary for identifying the date of Laylat al-Qadr—though it is generally believed to fall on one of the odd-numbered nights of the last 10 days of Ramadan.

Do you know Muslim friends, neighbors or co-workers? Michigan State University’s Joe Grimm reports on an easy and friendly way to reach out during Ramadan.

RAMADAN NEWS 2017

.

.

 

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.

PLEASE, help us spread the news to friends: Click the blue-”f” icon, either at top or bottom of this story, and share this article with your friends on Facebook.

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