In contrast with the news headlines preoccupied with turmoil in the Muslim world, the overwhelming number of the planet’s estimated 1.6 billion Muslims are anticipating and preparing for the annual fast of Ramadan, a period of renewal and rededication to the Creator of the universe.
For Muslims, fasting during Ramadan is the fourth of the five pillars of Islam, which include belief in God (“Allah,” in Arabic), prayer, charity, fasting, and a pilgrimage, by those who are able, to the ancient holy city Mecca in present-day Saudi Arabia, where the prophet Abraham, the father of monotheism, built the first house dedicated to the worship of the one Creator.
STARTS NEXT WEEK
Ramadan is the specific name for the ninth month in Islam, which like Judaism uses a lunar calendar.
With the sighting of the new moon, expected on Monday or Tuesday in North America, Muslims begin the fasting prescribed in the Quran, the scripture received by the prophet Muhammad.
It was during the month of Ramadan that Muhammad first began receiving the divine revelations that continued for the remaining 23 years of his life and are compiled in the Quran, including: “O you who believe, fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for the people before you, in order that you may gain reverence for God.”
The Ramadan fast goes beyond abstention — for God’s sake, from sunrise to sunset — from such lawful things such as food and water (the traditional predawn meal, sahoor, helps make that easy), and sexual relations between husband and wife. Or abstention from back-biting or other sins, as prescribed in Islam’s fellow Abrahamic faiths and others.
Observant Muslims consider Ramadan a welcome opportunity to join countless others in more reflection on the beneficence of the Creator of all, and more prayer and thanksgiving, as well as increased acts of charity. Ramadan also is an opportunity for a monthlong intensive class with God, as Muslims try to read one-thirtieth of the revelation in the Quran each day of the month.
Thus in addition to the traditional greeting in Arabic of As Salaam Alaikum, or “God’s Peace be with You,” is the oft-heard Ramadan Mubarak, or “Blessed Ramadan.”
The daily fast is broken at sunset with iftar, the evening meal, an opportunity for community gatherings and fellowship in homes and at mosques. President Barack Obama has continued the tradition of hosting iftar dinners at the White House, as have governors at many state mansions.
IN THE USA
All-night feasting is not an unusual cultural practice in some countries throughout the Muslim world, which from China to Nigeria, Malaysia to America, is as diverse as humanity.
But nighttime prayer is more likely in the United States, from The Mother Mosque of America in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, which opened in 1934 and is the longest standing mosque in North America, to the mainstream mosques such as Masjid Al-Islam in Miami, that began as Muhammad’s Temples in the original Nation of Islam.
The fast will conclude in August with the sighting of the next new moon and the annual Eid al-Fitr celebration, traditionally three days.
One feature of the lunar calendar is that Ramadan rotates through the seasons over the years, moving forward about 11 days each year.
Veteran fasters are likely to view the longer summer days of this year’s fast as more opportunity for more prayer, more good works, more blessings.