Muslims’ holy month of fasting starts
CAIRO, Egypt: Most of the Muslim Mideast began the first day of Ramadan on Monday, but Iraqi Shiites, some Lebanese Shiites and Iran will start observing the holy month of fasting on Tuesday.
Ramadan begins the day after the sighting of the crescent moon that marks the beginning of a new lunar month. Some Muslim countries use astronomical calculations and observatories, while others and particular sects in some countries rely on the naked eye alone, leading to different starting times.
Libya, for example, started the fasting period Sunday, and the state-run Libyan news agency reported that religious officials there had already spotted the first tiny sliver of the moon.
This year’s Muslim holy month comes at a time of high food prices region-wide — a burden for low-income people struggling to afford the special foods traditionally prepared for the meal that breaks the fast at each sunset. High food prices also complicate the usual practice of buying new clothes and other Ramadan treats.
Hot weather also will likely create extra challenges this year, for observers who go without food or water during daylight hours.
There have been proposals by Muslim scholars from both major sects to have a Sunni–Shiite committee work together to agree on the sighting of the Ramadan moon, but such efforts have in the past failed.
Ramadan can last either 29 or 30 days, depending on when the first moon of the next lunar month is sighted. During the month, Muslims are expected to abstain during daylight hours from food, drink, smoking and sex in order to focus on spiritual introspection.
Muslims revere this month because the first verses of their holy book, the Quran, were revealed to the Prophet Muhammad during Ramadan.
“Ramadan is a month of blessing. We fast from dawn to dusk. We abstain from food, drink and sexual relations during that time. Every adult male and female is required to fast,” said Imam Ahmed Patel from the Islamic Center of Conejo Valley in Newbury Park.
“If you are ill, traveling or nursing, you can make up for it later. The fast is to bring us closer to piety, closer to God.”
The fast is observed for 29 to 30 days, depending on the sighting of the next crescent moon. Fasting during Ramadan is one of the “Five Pillars” or duties that Muslims follow during their lifetime.
These obligations also include the declaration that “there is no God but God and Muhammad is the messenger”; prayer five times a day; giving to charity and making hajj, the pilgrimage to the Islamic holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia.
The word Ramadan is derived from an Arabic word that encompasses a situation of hot weather, parched ground and scarcity of food.
“The meaning behind the fast is to learn self-control, patience and restraint. It’s a time for us to consider how people without food survive. We try to understand their life,” Patel said.
“What we encourage people to do, particularly during this month, is help out the needy.”
Muslims break their fast after sunset by eating a few dates and drinking water. This was the practice of the Prophet Muhammad.
According to the Fiqh Council of North America, an advisory committee on Islamic law, the first day of Ramadan is Monday. Some calendars list it as Tuesday.
Whenever the month starts, it celebrates Allah giving the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad.
It’s a time for reading the holy book as well as increased prayer, charitable giving and reflection.
One of the purposes of the fast is physical and spiritual purification. Muslims try to abstain from evil actions during Ramadan, according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Fasting also is meant to help Muslims remember the poor and work on self-control.
Not every Muslim is expected to fast. People who are sick or traveling, pregnant and nursing women, the very old and the very weak, and children who haven’t reached puberty are not required to refrain from eating or drinking, according to WhyIslam.org.
The month and the fast end with Eid Al-Fitr, which the Fiqh Council said is Oct. 1 this year.
It’s a day for going to the mosque, praying and, of course, eating.