Ramadan begins in Islamic world

This September 1st marked the beginning of Ramadan, the month of the Islamic calendar designated for fasting during the daytime hours.

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, which is based on the cycles of the moon. However, because the lunar calendar is eleven days shorter than the solar calendar, the beginning of Ramadan moves up eleven days each year.

Technically, Ramadan begins with the new moon, but, as Ahmed Salim—president of the Muslim Students Association (MSA)—states, “We actually mark the beginning and end of Ramadan based on the moon’s sighting, not just on the calculated new moon. It’s traditional for Muslims to come out and try to see the moon on the first night of Ramadan.”

The daily fast begins shortly before the sunrise with the Fajr, the first prayer of the day. During Ramadan, most Muslim families rise early to eat a traditional pre-dawn meal called the Suhoor. Salim said, “Traditional food to eat before the daily fast would be dates, milk or an apple, but there isn’t a rule requiring these foods.”

After the Fajr, it is forbidden for healthy Muslims without some kind of a medical excuse to eat, drink or engage in sexual intercourse until after the fourth prayer of the day—the Maghrib—which comes shortly after sundown. For those interested, the Al-Farooq Masjid mosque on 14th St. will provide free meals to the community after sunset every day during Ramadan.

The MSA has been trying to enlist the services of the Stingerette to help students get to the mosque, but has so far been unsuccessful and has been arranging carpools among its members for the time being.

For those who do not have time between classes to go to the mosque for prayer, there is a prayer space open to members of all faiths on the third floor of the Student Center, though the MSA has been pushing for a better location. According to Salim, “The Muslims feel that this space is inadequate because of the fact that it is in a fire exit, and also because it’s near the ballroom, which can host programs that are very loud and disturbing, whereas a prayer space should be quieter. That’s why the Muslims, along with Jewish and Hindu students on campus, would love to have a more proper meditation and prayer area.”

When asked why Muslims fast during this month, Salim answered, “We believe that God opens the doors of mercy during this month, and closes the doors of evil. It’s a special month where you have a chance to separate yourself from your baser, more animalistic desires….Fighting your desire to eat or to drink, though it’s not a sin to do either, helps you curb your desire for other things. It’s a way of teaching yourself self-restraint and patience.”

The day after Ramadan ends is a celebration called Eid, which Salim describes as “a day of feasting similar to Christmas. Typically, children get presents and money, and everybody feasts.” This is one of two festivals on the Islamic calendar, with the other (which is also referred to as Eid) coming about 70 days after the end of Ramadan. This celebration coincides with the Hajj and commemorates Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his son for God.

Though the MSA normally hosts a fast-a-thon during Ramadan, because it comes so early in the school year this year, it has been pushed back to October. Salim describes it as being similar to a walk-a-thon: “We have people sign up to donate to a charity based on how many people you have pledge to support your cause. We then donate the money to an organization or a charity, either locally or abroad, that helps homeless or needy people.…This year, the proceeds will go to Doctors Without Borders.”

In Arabic, “Ramadan” translates literally to “the Scorcher.” This is because before Islam became the dominant religion in the area, Arabs would add days to their lunar calendar so that it would match the solar calendar. Thus, Ramadan would come at the same time each year, which happened to be right in the middle of the Arabian summer, where the day was 16 hours long and the weather was at its hottest.

Not all nights of Ramadan are created equal, though. One night, called the ‘Laylat ul-Qadr’ (which translates to “The Night of Power” or “The Night of Decree”), is considered to have special weight. Many believe that, on this night, any worship, praise or good deeds done are considered of more weight than if a thousand months were spent in the same way. However, the exact date of the night isn’t known.

According to Salim, “It’s ambiguous what night that is, because you’re supposed to search for that night, rather than only praying on that night, and no time else in the year.”

This year, the final day of Ramadan is September 30th.