At the first glimpse of the crescent moon this weekend, Muslims around the world will begin the observance of Ramadan, one of the holiest periods of their year.
Muslims are prohibited from eating, drinking and engaging in sexual activity during daylight hours. The Ramadan fast is supposed to draw the believer closer to God, said Imam Plemon El-Amin of the Atlanta Masjid of Al-Islam.
“We’re not doing this to lose weight, gain willpower or to have better health,” El-Amin said. “We’re doing this simply because God says so.”
Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic year, is one of the five pillars of Islam. The others are the affirmation that there is only one God, daily prayer, charity and making a pilgrimage to Mecca.
The Ramadan fast begins in the pre-dawn darkness, at the first sighting of the crescent moon. A popular expression says that Ramadan starts when one can tell the difference between a white and a black thread.
And while most people associate fasting with atonement, Ramadan’s purpose is different.
“The real benefit is that you’re thinking on God and you’re thinking of worshipping God 24 hours a day,” El-Amin said.
Non-Muslims may believe that Ramadan is physically draining for Muslims, but many Muslims actually discover that they have more energy, El-Amin said.
“You get rested very quickly,” he said. “You get a four-hour sleep during Ramadan and you feel like it’s an eight-hour sleep.”
Yet Ramadan isn’t just about going without food. Muslims are expected to recite the entire Quran (114 chapters) during the month. They also are expected to pray constantly, ask for forgiveness and worship in the mosque.
Muslims believe Ramadan is the month in which the first verses of the Quran were revealed by the archangel Gabriel to the prophet Muhammad.
Islam, which began about A.D. 600, is a relatively young religion, but it now claims an estimated 1.2 billion people. Muslims believe that some figures in Judaism and Christianity — such as Abraham, Moses and Jesus — were prophets but believe God’s final revelation came through Muhammad and is contained in the Quran.
Islam has a strong presence in Georgia as well. There are an estimated 50,000 Muslims in Georgia and at least 12 mosques in metro Atlanta. Islam is expected to pass Judaism soon as the second largest religion in the United States.