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Ramadan

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Islam is the second largest religion in the world with more than one billion adherents. It appeared in Arabia and spread all over the globe. There are many countries with the biggest Muslim population such as Iran, Pakistan, Indonesia, Egypt, Nigeria, Bangladesh, and Turkey. According to the estimates, there are 7 million Muslims in all 50 states of the USA, along with the Islamic locations of worship, called mosques.

Muslims believe that nearly in 600 A.D., a prophet Muhammad received revelations from God, named Allah, by the medium of angel Gabriel. The confessions were compiled into a chapter 114 of the holy book Quran, which Muslims believe maintains the definite words of God. Muhammad is the last seer in a range of Islamic prophets. He was chosen by Allah to act as an envoy and teach the mankind. Muslims trust in one God and, as a result, they can attain absolution by following his precepts. In Arabic, Islam means “obedience” to Allah. The Five Pillars of Islam are principal in Islam religion, as a series of formal acts of worship. They contain a prayer (5 times a day), a manifest of belief, named shahada, zakat (charitable giving) and fasting. Also, Muslims are supposed to do a pilgrimage to the city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia, at least once in a life, if they are financially and physically able to do it.

Ramadan is the 9th month in the twelve-month Muslims’ calendar, which is lunar and grounded on the phases of the moon. The lunar calendar is shorter than the solar calendar by 11 days (Hallaq 2007: 552-553). Consequently, Ramadan starts on the different date every year and instead passes via all the seasons. It is carried out in the month when Muhammad gets the revelations, which were written in Quran.

Within Ramadan, Muslims fast from morning till evening every day. They have to avoid drinking, eating, having any sexual activity, and smoking. Furthermore, they keep out of immoral thoughts, words and behavior. Ramadan is a reason to practice stamina and self-examination. Fasting for Muslims is a way to clear the soul and show empathy for the destitute. As mentioned in the Quran "O you who have believed, decreed upon you is fasting as it was decreed upon those before you that you may become righteous" (The Quran 2007).

Nevertheless, Muslims provide their everyday activities during Ramadan, also, they read the whole Quran, pray and visit mosques more often during this month. All of them, who have reached sexual maturity and are healthy, are required to fast. Pregnant women, those who are nursing, the sick and elderly people, along with travelers are exempt. Nevertheless, if pointed people missed the days of fast, they should keep it in the future, or provide a meal for poor people. Yet, some Muslim women could still choose to fast during pregnancy.

Islamic religion is also very strict about sex and menstruation during the period of Ramadan. When a Muslim woman fasts, she must desist from sexual relationships from morning to evening during Ramadan period. As written in the Quran "It has been made permissible for you the night preceding fasting to go to your wives. They are clothing for you and you are clothing for them" (The Quran 2007).

Women are free from fasting during menstruation and after forty days following childbirth as it interferes with neatness and ritual purity(Sulimani 1991, vol. 11:637-641). Nevertheless, they are expected to make up the missed fasting days. To avoid this, many Muslim women use oral contraceptives to respite their menstruation as it is not so easy to fast alone at a later time(Zaidi 2003).

Instead of traditional three meals a day, Muslims have “suhoor” as a breakfast and “iftar” as a dinner during Ramadan. Suhoor is the last food eaten by Muslims before fasting from daybreak to sunset. Also, it is considered by Islamic traditions as a benefit of the benedictions, because it allows the human being to keep away from the weakness caused by the fast.

Further, every day's fast is broken with a meal called "iftar". Iftars are often elaborating the meals, celebrated with family and friends. The types of foods served diversify according to culture. As a rule, three dates are eaten to break apart the fast, as the prophet Muhammad broke his fast in this way (Zaidi  2003, vol. 11:289-292). Muslims have a tradition of feeding someone during iftar, as a form of generosity. They believe it is very rewarding and that it was provided by Prophet Muhammad.

The last days of Ramadan are a period of special spiritual coalescing, as everyone tries to be closer to Allah through the adherence and good deals. The night, when the first chapters of the Quran were showed to the Muhammad, known as Lailat al-Qadr or the Night of Power. It is generally the 27th night of the month. The Quran underlines that this night is better than any others. Hence, Muslims spend the entire night in extra prayers and hope that God will give them everything they want on this night. Some Muslims believe that unveiling of the Quran appeared in two phases, with the 1 stage being the revelation in its fullness to the angel Gabriel, and then the following unveiling to Muhammad. The revelation began in 710 CE, at the cave on the Mount Nur. The first Surah was named Surah Al-Alaq. During the first revelation the first 5 verses of this chapter were given to Muhammad. The first word of the confession was 'Ikra' meaning 'read'. It is important since Muhammad could not read.

During the last days of Ramadan, each family gives a concrete amount of food to the poor. This benefaction includes rice, barley, dates, etc. This tradition ensures that everyone can have a holiday meal and join the celebration. This donation is known as charity of fast-breaking (sadaqah al-fitr).

The end of Ramadan is named as Feast of Breaking the Fast or Eid al-Fitr. It is an important religious holiday that signifies the ending of fast and beginning of a feast, which lasts during 3 days in different countries. During Eid al-Fitr celebration Muslims get up early and offer the pre-sunrise prayer, called Salatul Fajr. Then they dress in their prettiest clothes and array their houses with lights and decorations. Old dealings are forgiven, and money is given to the destitute. Eid al-Fitr is a happy event, but its core purpose is glorification and benediction of God, according to the Islamic religion. The main goal of holiday is Eid prayer performance in some open areas like fields, mosques, or at the community centers. First of all, the Eid prayer starts with the propagation named “Khutbah” and continues with a prayer, asking for God's blessings, mercy, peace and forgiveness for all people in the world. The propagation also motives Muslims for such ritual as “zakat”.  Listening to the sermon at Eid is obligatory; therefore it is prohibited to talk, during prayer. After the sermon, women cook special dishes and relatives or friends are invited to celebrate the feast. During celebration people receive presents and greeting cards, known as Eid. The common greetings during this big day are the “Blessed Eid!” or “Happy Eid!” 

Muslim communities in the USA promote the allocation of Eid al-Fitr as an official day off in schools in some parts of the country. Eid al-Fitr is not a public holiday in America. For instance, the Muslim School Holidays Coalition (a community of more than eighty religious organizations), have been fighting to have Eid al-Fitr as days off in schools of New York. Nevertheless, many Islamic companies may change their working hours during this holiday. It may be some congestion near mosques in this period of time.

In addition, it is impossible to foretell the exact time of Eid al-Fitr in the Western calendar. The main reason is that the period of Ramadan ends according the sighting of the new moon. The sharp moon could be sighted later or earlier in different locations. Therefore, Muslims from east and west coasts of America and Canada may begin the Eid-al-Fitr celebrations not in the same time.

According to the estimates of Central Intelligence Agency, there are 75% of Christians in the USA. Due to the religious traditions, American Christians also have a certain time for almsgiving, fasting and praying, as well as Christians worldwide.  Likewise Ramadan in Islam, there is the Christian Season of Lent. For Christians fasting for 40 days is called Lent. Although, both religions may have different purposes of celebrating, they have one main purpose of fasting.

Lent is the period of preparation for Easter – a holiday of Jesus resurrection. Lent begins with Ash Wednesday, forty days before Easter Saturday. The forty days are a consideration of the period spent by Jesus fasting in the desert, where he was tempted by the Satan. Christians obey this by repentance, prayer, benefaction and self-denial. It reminds the believer of God’s sacrifice on the cross and the joy of Jesus’ resurrection. Moreover, Jesus’ death and resurrection are considered the most significant time of the Christian calendar. As a result, Lent helps Christians to get ready for this time of the liturgical year.

Consequently, both Ramadan and Lent seasons are about self-sacrifice, prayer, and building a closer spiritual connection with God. Such religious holidays are both about soul cleansing.  Although, Lent assists believers to be cleansed and get ready for Easter - the time, which is the main for Christians  and Muslims is not used for this aim or any other closed goal at all.

To sum up, Ramadan allows completing many great goals in life. The spirit of Ramadan supposes to learn self-control. It teaches the Prophetic rule on eating: fill our stomachs with one-third food, one-third water and one-third breathing space, even in Ramadan. This holiday opens hearts and dig a little deeper in wallets. Ramadan teaches that whatever you can give, it is the intention that counts. Such period in Islam religion shows that praying is wonderful, and doing it in congregation is fantastic. The community spirit is a part of Ramadan's blessings. Strengthening ties with family members and keeping in touch with friends is a part of our way of life and an act Allah is very pleased with. Ramadan reminds us to call family and friends or at least email them a Ramadan card and ask how their fasting is going.  Ramadan teaches us to let go of anger and pain, and forgive those who have hurt you. Forgiving someone is not only good for the body, but it is also great for the soul.

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