Muslim Holy Month of Ramadan to Begin
By Rabia Jami
Special to American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 20, 2003 More than 1.2 billion Muslims worldwide will celebrate the start of Ramadan, Islam's holy month of fasting, on the October 26 or 27. The start and end dates for Ramadan may vary because the beginning of Islamic lunar months depends on the actual sighting of the new moon.
Followers of Islam believe that during Ramadan, heaven's gates are wide open and hell's gates are locked shut. In the Quran, the Muslim holy book, it is said "You may eat and drink until the white thread of light becomes distinguishable from the dark thread of night at dawn. Then, you shall fast until the 'layl' (night)."
During the fasting month, Muslims eat a small meal prior to each morning's dawn. They then abstain from food, drink and other physical pleasures during the daylight hours. Believers end their fast just after sunset. Often this meal is taken at a cheerful gathering of family, friends or other community members.
In the evening, many Muslims attend "taraweeh" prayer at their local mosque. This prayer involves the recitation of one thirtieth of the Quran. By going to these prayers each night, a Muslim will hear the entire book recited by the end of the month.
The primary reason for fasting is to invoke God's pleasure. Other benefits and goals of the fast are developing greater self-restraint, having empathy for those who are less fortunate, breaking self- indulgent habits, cultivating patience and improving family ties. There also are well documented medical benefits gained from fasting. Children, old people, and others who may physically or mentally Be incapable of understanding the fast or enduring its rigors are not required to take part.
The last 10 days of the month are considered among the most blessed. Those who can will retreat to their local mosque for the duration and spend their time in prayer and reflection. Among this last 10 days is Lailat ul-Qadr, the Night of Power. On this night, Muslims believe, Allah sent the Quran to humanity.
Ramadan's fast fits neatly with two of Islam's other five pillars of faith in providing structure to one's spiritual life. Each day there are five prayers, each year there is one month of fasting, and in each person's lifetime -- for those who are physically and financially able -- there is a pilgrimage to Mecca.
Charity is also an obligatory pillar of Islam. After one acquires the necessities of life -- food and shelter -- and before spending money on niceties, Muslims first donate 2.5 percent of their money to the needy.
The remaining pillar is a Muslim's verbal declaration of faith: There is nothing worthy of worship but Allah; Muhammad is Allah's prophet. The Arabic word "Allah" translates into English as "The One God." Just as the words "salaam" and "peace" mean the same thing, the word Allah is used in the Arabic speaking world by both Christians and Muslims to imply the same entity.
As for the second part of the declaration, Muslims view Muhammad as the last in a line of prophets that started with Adam and passed through other respected figures such as Abraham, Moses and Jesus.
At the month's conclusion Eid-ul-Fitr, the three-day Feast of the Fast-Breaking, begins. This holiday is expected to begin Nov. 24 or 25.
In the United States, an estimated 7 million Muslims will be observing Ramadan. Muslims have been fasting in America since at least the colonial era. Many Muslims were brought to the United States as slaves, one of these being Kunte Kinte, who was made famous by Alex Halley's novel "Roots." There is evidence indicating that a Muslim fought on the colonial side at the Battle of Bunker Hill. A Muslim known as Nicolas Said served in the 55th Regiment of Massachusetts Colored Volunteers during the Civil War.
(Rabia Jami is a Web developer for DefendAmerica.mil.)