20 July 2012
In this image from 2006, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip attend prayers during the Islamic festival of Eid al-Fitr at the conclusion of Ramadan. (photo: CNS/Mohammed Salem, Reuters)
Today begins the official observance of Ramadan, the most important event of the year for Muslims — but what does that mean? Last year, Elias Mallon, CNEWA’s education and interreligious affairs officer, wrote an award-winning essay in ONE about Ramadan. Below, we have highlighted five interesting facts from his essay:
The date when Ramadan begins is not set in stone.
“The exact beginning of Ramadan depends on this sighting of the new moon, which occurs anytime within a two–day period. As a result it is never absolutely certain in any given year when Ramadan officially begins.
“Similarly, because the Muslim year is lunar, i.e., calculated by the moon, it is about 11 days shorter than the solar calendar, which is familiar to most people. As a result, every year Ramadan is about 11 days “earlier” than the year before.”
The United States Postal Service has issued several stamps related to Ramadan since 2001.
“Ramadan and Eid ul Fitr, the feast ending it, have become increasingly visible in Europe and North America in the past two decades. Immigration has increased the number of Muslims in the West and more and more people are becoming aware of the monthlong fast and celebration.
“In places where Muslims represent a religious minority, recognition of Ramadan and Eid ul Fitr increasingly symbolizes a degree of social acceptance by the majority. In the United States, for instance, the postal service [has] issued [several] postage stamp[s] [across several years] for Eid ul Fitr. And more and more often, shops sell greeting cards for the holiday, and many non–Muslims now send or give them to their Muslim friends and neighbors.”
While Ramadan has similarities to the Christian fasting season of Lent, it also has distinct differences.
“More important, unlike Lent, Ramadan is not generally understood as an act of penance. Muslims rather consider Ramadan as an exercise in self–discipline, as purification and as a reminder of the believer’s dependence on the bounty of God…
“One of the more striking aspects of Ramadan, particularly to Christians and Jews, is the joy with which Muslims anticipate and observe the month. Whereas Lent is a time of quiet, penitential reflection for Christians and Yom Kippur (or the Day of Atonement) is a solemn day for Jews, Ramadan is a time of spiritual and physical refreshment for Muslims. It is a time to put aside the burdens and cares of everyday life and to focus on what really matters. Whereas Christians created Fat Tuesday as the last celebration before Lent, Muslims see no need to “get it all in” before Ramadan. Ramadan is a celebration.”
Can you imagine fasting — no food, no water — for over 15 hours?
“Since the month of Ramadan moves “backward” through the solar year, it occurs at some point in every season of the year in any given location. In the summer in both northern and southern latitudes, days can be quite long and the fast can go on for more than 15 hours. If 15 hours without food is difficult, 15 hours in the summer without water is even more so.”
In some communities, Ramadan helps to encourage interfaith dialogue.
“A new and popular Ramadan tradition is for Muslims to invite their non–Muslims neighbors to take part in the iftar or Eid ul Fitr. In some communities in Europe and North America, where Muslims are a religious minority, the iftar has become an important interfaith celebration. What better way to promote interreligious understanding around the world than by sharing the joy of the iftar and Eid ul Fitr?”
Read more about the Muslim period of prayer and fasting in Ramadan Observed.
Tags: Palestine Gaza Strip/West Bank Muslim Islam Ramadan