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Friday, June 27, 2014

Ramadan 101: Ten facts about the holy month of Ramadan

1. What is Ramadan?

Ramadan, the ninth month on the Muslim calendar, is celebrated as the month when the first verses of the Quran were said to be revealed to the prophet Muhammad in 610 CE. Laylat al-Qadr, or Night of Power, is thought to be the actual day when the Quran was given to the prophet and usually falls within the last 10 days of the holiday.

2. What is the purpose of Ramadan?

During Ramadan, observers are expected to abstain from food, drink, and other pleasures from dawn to dusk. Removing these comforts from daily routine is intended to focus the mind on prayer, spirituality, and charity and to purify the body and mind. Muslims are also expected to abstain from impurities such as gossip and cursing.

3. Exceptions to the fast

Several different groups are excused from fasting during Ramadan: pregnant women, people who are mentally or physically ill, and sometimes women who are breastfeeding. Children are not obligated to fast until they hit puberty, although many choose to observe the fast at least part of the month in preparation for later years.

Sometimes political factors can also get in the way of the fast. In China, celebrating Ramadan has been banned by the government in Xinjian province, where ethnic Uighurs practice Islam. Last month, tensions between Uighurs and police forces led to widespread riots resulting in the deaths of some 35 people.

4. The start of Ramadan is determined by the moon

The exact start of Ramadan is often up in the air until just before the holiday begins because it is determined by a sighting of the new moon. Many places still depend on someone seeing the new moon with the naked eye in order to declare the holiday. As a result, Ramadan’s start can vary from place to place because of weather conditions and other factors that affect how easily the moon is seen.

5. The date changes every year

Islam functions on a lunar calendar that doesn’t quite line up with the solar Gregorian calendar that the secular world uses. So while Muslim holidays are always the same day on the Muslim calendar, they happen on different days on the Gregorian calendar – typically moving 11 or 12 days earlier each year.

6. A month of big changes

In countries where Muslims are the majority, Ramadan has a drastic impact on daily life. Egypt pushes the clocks back an hour during the holy month so that the fast feels like it is ending earlier and the evenings are lengthened. Work days are made shorter during the month to accommodate the additional time spent in prayer and in enjoying festive meals to end the daily fast.

According to bankers and economists in Muslim countries, Ramadan almost always ushers in a month-long period of inflation as people drastically increase the amount of money spent on clothing and food. The prices of certain staples go up dramatically – according to a former Monitor correspondent in Cairo, during Ramadan a cup of tea can cost six times its normal price. However, economic productivity also declines because of the shorter working hours and the general malaise among those abstaining from food and water all day.

Ironically, many people gain weight during Ramadan. They are more sedentary during the daytime, eat richer food than normal at the fast-breaking iftar meal in the evenings, and get the majority of their daily calories at night, shortly before they go to sleep.

7. Traveling during Ramadan

Though it is the holiest month of the year, Ramadan does not prohibit long-distance travel. Many Muslims will still celebrate even while in transit.

This year the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), anticipating the holiday, issued a statement on its website informing travelers of the increase in religious activities they may see in airports, according to the National Journal. Some of the practices include reciting passages from the Quran, whispering prayers, or performing ablution (the washing of the body).

If a non-Muslim wants to wish a fellow passenger a happy Ramadan, they can say Ramadan Mubarak, which means “have a blessed Ramadan.”

8. Charity is an important part of Ramadan

While most non-Muslims know of Ramadan for the fasting, charity is also an important part of the month long holiday.

Muslims are obliged to give charity on a regular basis in the form of either Zakat, which is mandatory giving, or Sadaqa, which is voluntary and meant to go beyond the mere religious obligations. During Ramadan, the rewards of charity are considered greater. As a result, many Muslims will choose to give more during the month.

9. The Five Pillars of Islam

Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam, the practices that all Muslims must follow. They are as follows:

Shahada: This is a profession of belief in the one true God. The declaration usually goes as follows: “There is no god but God and Muhammad is his prophet and servant.”

Salat: Praying five time daily facing the direction of Mecca. Muslims must practice ablution before the prayers.

Zakat: The giving of charity to the poor and needy.

Sawm: Fasting during the month of Ramadan.

Hajj: The pilgrimage to Mecca that each Muslim must make at least once in his or her lifetime.

10. Eid ul Fitr

The end of Ramadan is marked by Eid ul Fitr, a large festival to celebrate the end of the fast. The celebration begins as soon as the new moon is sighted in the sky. During Eid, Muslims celebrate by putting on their best clothing, attending large processions, giving gifts, spending time with their family, and having a large meal during the day. Muslims must also contribute a certain amount to charity so that the poor may also celebrate the breaking of the fast.

Eid ul Fitr is also considered a time of reverance. Muslims praise Allah (God) for helping them get through the month, and ask for forgiveness for the sins they’ve committed.

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