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What is Ramadan? How Can You Support Your Muslim Friends and Colleagues?

by an 11th grade reporter

“Wait, so you starve yourselves from sunrise to sunset for a month?” Well, no.

Ramadan is a month devoted to worship and self improvement. Nearly 1.8 billion Muslims worldwide observe Ramadan. It begins at a staggered time every year, based on lunar patterns. This year, starting on the night of April 12th, Muslims prepare themselves for a month of fasting. This includes prayer, recitations of the holy book -- the Qur’an -- and ridding themselves of negative forces. People can spend time calling family members and wishing them “Ramadan Mubarak.” People fasting during Ramadan can wake up at suhoor and eat a meal before sunrise. After fajr namaz (which means prayer), a new day of fasting has started. Then, Muslims can end a day of fasting at iftar, which is a meal eaten at sunset.

There are some restrictions during fasting. According to the Birmingham Mail, “Fasting means no food or drink and also abstaining from bad habits and sins such as smoking, swearing, gossipping, arguing, fighting or being disrespectful, cruel or selfish.” Fasting is mandatory during Ramadan for adults. But, fasting is excused for children who have not reached puberty, the elderly, those experiencing menstruation, people who are physically or mentally incapable of fasting, pregnant women, and anyone travelling long distances.

To understand why this month is so important, some historical context may be needed. Fasting in Arabic is sawm. This is one of the five pillars of Islam besides declaration of faith (shahada), prayer (salah), charity (zakah), and pilgrimage (hajj). It was during this month of sawm that the Angel Jibrīl visited Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) at the cave of Hira in Mecca, Saudi Arabia and revealed parts of the Qur’an. "Peace be upon him” is often added as a sign of great respect and honor.

Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is seen as the most important figure in the Islamic world because he was the final prophet. This also ties into Laylat Al Qadr, which is considered the holiest night of the year for Muslims, and is traditionally celebrated on the 27th day of Ramadan. According to the HuffingtonPost, “It is known as the ‘Night of Power,’ and commemorates the night that the Quran was first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad, beginning with the exhortation, ‘Read! In the Name of your Lord, Who has created.’” Being the first to listen to the teachings of the Qur’an, the Prophet (peace be upon him) was given the pivotal role of spreading the word of the revelations. Muslims today spend the night praying and reciting the Qur’an. This night can bring the blessings of 1,000 months with a single good deed.

At iftar, Muslims break their fast with dates, which is oftentimes followed by a meal. This is following the way the Prophet (peace be upon him) had done centuries before. Many cultures eat different foods at this time celebrating their particular traditions and highlighting the diversity of the global Muslim community.

In Lebanese culture, you might eat Rez a djej (rice and chicken) or Kibbeh Bil Sanieh (beef or lamb). In other Middle Eastern countries, lamb kebabs with grilled vegetables are served, and baklava as sweets. Rooh Afza is common in many South Asian countries (such as Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan) as well as Middle Eastern countries. It is a sweet red syrup, that can either be mixed with water, milk, or ice cream. In Turkey, Güllaç is a well known sweet. It means “food with roses.”

At the end of the month, the festivities for Eid al-Fitr conclude Ramadan. This can be a great celebration with loved ones. The day begins with Eid prayers. But later on, people meet with other family and friends, exchange gifts, and give charity. Despite the pandemic, people have found ways to connect with each other through video chat and social media. It is very important for those that don’t observe Ramadan to help their Muslims friends through this time. This can be by learning more about Islam and why Ramadan is so important. It can also help to fix events to better fit their schedules.

Here is a fun fact to end your read: In a strange turn of events, Ramadan will happen twice in a year. An article from the Birmingham Mail continues, “The holy month of fasting will occur twice in 2030 as lunar and solar differences bring an unusual double celebration that is sure to cause some confusion. In 2030, the holy month will occur twice in one year: once in January and then again in December.” While it may sound bizarre, two periods of fasting in one year is nothing to worry about.

Links if you want to help and donate:

Thank you for reading, and I am wishing everyone a blessed Ramadan! Stay safe and be well!

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