Because Muslims account for 1.6 billion of our global neighbours, other religions need to become more aware of Ramadan and Islamic practices. Here are some things you should know about Islam’s holiest month.
1. Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. Because it’s based on the lunar calendar, the beginning and end dates vary from year to year. This year in the United State Ramadan began on the evening of Friday, May 26, and ends on Saturday, June 24.
Islamic tradition holds that three of the religion’s other holy texts were also revealed during Ramadan: The Scriptures of Ibrahim on the first night of Ramadan, the Torah on the sixth of Ramadan, the Gospel on the 13th of Ramadan. (Note: The Islamic “gospel” is not the same as the four Gospels of Christianity. The Islamic view of the Bible is based on the belief that the Torah, Psalms, and Gospels were revelation from Allah that became distorted or corrupted. Muslims believe that Jesus was a Muslim prophet [a messenger of Allah], and that he was not the son of God.)
Fasting during Ramadan, known as “sawm,” is one of theFive Pillars of Islam, the basic religious duties for Muslims. The other four pillars are Shahadah (declaring there is no god except Allah, and Muhammad is Allah’s Messenger); Salat (ritual prayer five times a day); Zakat (compulsory charity for the poor, assessed at 2.5 percent of capital assets); and the Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in a lifetime if he or she is able; the hajj takes place during the last ten days of the 12th lunar month).
Fasting during Ramadan begins 20 minutes before dawn (fajr) and ends at sundown (maghrib). All able-bodied adults are expected to participate in the fast. Children are exempt, as are the elderly, the ill, travelers, and women who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or menstruating.
If Muslims miss or invalidate their fast they must make up missed fast days before the next Ramadan begins. The missed days can be made up any time during this period, on consecutive days or separately. In some Muslim countries, failing to fast during Ramadan can bring civil penalties. For instance, in Saudi Arabia, where the Qur’an is considered a constitutional document, all people including foreigners and tourists of other faiths are required to fast when in public. In 2013, Saudi Officials warned, “Those who are caught will be examined and will face legal action commensurate with their violation. Punishment could be a prison term or lashes or both while foreigners could, in addition, be deported from the kingdom.”