Ramadan begins; Muslims unite with prayer, fasting

F By Lee Billings

for many University students, November’s shortened days and bare trees are reminders of the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. For Muslims, however, November’s hallmarks are the prelude to the holy month of Ramadan.

The two holidays both use food to celebrate good fortune and promote social unity, but each with different methods: Thanksgiving brings American families together for a day of feasting, while Ramadan unites Muslim communities worldwide with a month of fasting and prayer.

“During Ramadan, all Muslims are doing the same thing all together for the whole month, which is very unifying,” said freshman Elsa Khwaja, who observes the holiday.

“We fast because God wants us to develop self-discipline and to feel for others who are less fortunate – those in poverty, those with less food,” she said.

Ramadan doesn’t always begin in November. Based on the Islamic lunar calendar, the month begins with the sighting of the new crescent moon. Because the lunar calendar is shorter than the Western solar calendar, Ramadan falls 10 to 11 days earlier each year. This year, the holiday started Wednesday.

The University’s Muslim Student Association celebrated the kickoff of Ramadan on Thursday night, hosting a campus-wide event in Appleby Hall complete with Middle Eastern delicacies and a prayer service. The group will continue to host events through Dec. 5 when the holiday ends.

“We want to create awareness for the campus community of how it feels to fast,” said Minnesota Student Association President Bilal Mamdani, a University junior. “(Ramadan) is about what you give up; it’s about exercising control,” he said.

The roots of Ramadan stretch back to the fifth century A.D., when Muslims believe the first verses of the Quran were revealed in the night to the Prophet Muhammad by the angel Gabriel. During Ramadan, Laylatul Qadr – “the night of power and grandeur” – marks this anniversary.

Commemoration of this event with devotion and fasting during the holy month is one of the five pillars of Islam. Each day during Ramadan, Muslims are obligated not to eat, drink or engage in sexual relations from sunrise until sunset.

But there are exceptions.

“People who are not obligated to fast are women having their period, people traveling, people who are sick, mothers nursing babies and a few more,” said Nadra Halig, a University senior.

Halig and Khwaja said balancing Ramadan with busy campus life can be difficult, but both have adjusted their schedules to comply with the holiday. The two said they won’t be spending as much time socializing, opting for more time praying and reading the Quran.

During Ramadan, each day’s fast is broken around sunset with a meal called “iftar,” while the meal before dawn is called “suhur.” Traditionally these meals are family or community affairs accompanied by prayers and readings from the Quran.

Ramadan also boasts its own Thanksgiving-like feast, Eid al-Fitr – “feast of the fast-breaking.” The feast occurs at the end of Ramadan on the first day of the new month, which begins with a special morning prayer and is followed by a large community meal later in the day.

“I look forward to Eid every year,” said Halig with a smile. “You appreciate food more by the end of Ramadan – it just tastes better.”

Ultimately, the rituals of Ramadan’s fasting and prayer serve one goal, Khwaja said. “It’s not just about unifying the Muslim community. It’s deeper than that. Your focus should be on inner mental devotion to God, an enlightenment of the soul. You should be God-conscious.”

Lee Billings is a freelance writer. The freelance editor welcomes comments at [email protected]