It’s important to understand Ramadan even if you aren’t Muslim and especially if you are traveling to Muslim areas of the world. As I side note, I will be fasting but also taking a multi-faith 30 day spiritual journey during the month of Ramadan. If you’d like to join me or participate in the many discussions that are certain to arise, please join me at http://gplus.to/vago and http://www.facebook.com/vagodamitio
Ramadan is the most important Islamic holiday throughout the world. Why?
While Ramadan may seem like a perplexing holiday to non-Muslims, non-believers may be surprised to learn how much Muslims look forward to the fast. It is a time of spiritual healing and cleansing. Ramadan is a holiday of learning to become a better person. During the holiday Muslims prepare foods and buy presents to give to their friends, family and the poor.
First let’s look at what exactly Ramadan is and when it happens. Ramadan is the obligatory month of fasting which takes place each year on the Islamic calendar during the 9th month. Since the Islamic calendar is lunar, that means that each year Ramadan is about 11 days earlier by the solar Gregorian calendar than it was the year before. This year Ramadan begins right around August 1st.
Still, Ramadan doesn’t always begin on the same day throughout the Muslim world because it begins on the night when the new moon is visible. This is because the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) said that you start the fast when you see the moon. During the next cycle of the moon, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset, that is, during the daytime they consume no food or water. Non-Muslims are not required to fast, but of course, you should be sensitive to the fact that others are fasting, especially if you are visiting an Islamic country such as Morocco, Gulf states, or Turkey (which is secular, but about 99% Muslim).
Ramadan is special because it celebrates the month during which the Quran was revealed to the Prophet. In addition to not eating or drinking during daylight, Muslims who are observing the fast don’t smoke or have sex during the daylight hours either. There are some people who do not have to fast such as pregnant women, menstruating women, nursing mothers, the sick, and the very young. Those travelling are also exempt. Good news for you right?
The traditions of Ramadan are very similar throughout the Muslim world, but there are of course variations in terms of food, drink and activities. One thing that is common is a focus on eating foods that are considered nutritious for the body. The entire idea behind Ramadan is that God gave us our bodies and we can sacrifice to show gratitude and in the process do honor to our bodies with healthy food and activities. Ramadan is about self-discipline to honor the creator.
Prayer is taken more seriously during Ramadan and even those who usually don’t pray are often seen in the mosque. Ramadan is a time of family and friends and the breaking of the daily fast (Iftar)is a time when people laugh, eat, and enjoy themselves. Ramadan is one of the most anticipated times of the year for Muslims, it’s like Christmas for Christians but without the obligatory presents (though there are often presents too).
During the day however, Ramadan can be a difficult time to be in the Muslim world. Short tempers get shorter, traffic becomes crazier, and breaking the fast is a punishable offense in some countries. In addition, visitors to Morocco and other countries will find most cafes and restaurants closed during daylight hours. In truth, it’s not the best time to come to Morocco as a tourist unless you are interested in experiencing Ramadan.At sunset signaled by the sounding of a siren and the lighting of lamps in all city minarets an amazing sense of calm takes over the streets as the fast is broken for the day.
Traditionally in Morocco, the fast is broken with a bowl of harira and dates. Also, where I live in Sefrou included are Hindia (cactus fruit) which are served cold and peeled. At the breaking of the fast, everyone in the cities and villages spend their evenings celebrating with food and family.
The end of Ramadan is marked by a three day period of special prayers, feasts and sweets. Aïd el Fitr (Eid ul-Fitr or Id-Ul-Fitr) is the celebration of the end of the month long fasting period and is a great celebration throughout the Muslim world.