The following article, originally published as Ramadan – A Primer for Non-Muslims, provides a fascinating brief overview of Ramadan – the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, and a season during which practicing Muslims strive to develop greater patience, spirituality, humility and submissiveness to God.  My Latter-day Saint readers will not fail to notice the striking parallels between principles we would consider fundamentals of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and the concepts and traditions associated with Ramadan, the most important annual religious observance of our Muslim friends and neighbors.

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Adapted from an article by Aysha Jamali

Sunday night (July 29, 2011) at sunset marked the start of the holiest month of the Islamic calendar for Muslims – a month filled with prayer, fasting, charity and community gatherings.

On the first night of Ramadan, Muslims around the world visit their places of worship for special prayers where lengthy amounts of the Qur’an, or the Muslim holy book, are recited.   It is common to recite at least one chapter each night so that, by the end of the month, all 30 chapters of the book are recited.

Fasting

What Ramadan is best known for is its daily fasting.  Muslims who are healthy and able refrain from food and drink from before the sun rises to just as the sun sets. That’s about 16 hours of fasting in one day, when Ramadan falls in August.  Several groups are excused from fasting: pregnant women, people who are mentally or physically ill, and sometimes women who are breastfeeding.  Children are not obligated to fast until they reach puberty, although many children choose to observe the fast at least part of the month in preparation for later years.

There’s a strong will in Ramadan – a determination and strength in believing that anything is possible.  Muslims see Ramadan as a re-charger for the rest of the year, where they acquire a greater consciousness of God and develop self-restraint.  Feeling the hunger pangs of fasting during the day forces Muslims to remember why they are doing it and that fills the mind with thoughts of God.

Self Control

Self-restraint is an underlying value that gives purpose and meaning to the Ramadan celebration.   If a person can stop eating and drinking during daylight hours, which are perfectly acceptable things to do, then there is no reason why that person cannot stop doing unacceptable things.   Therefore, a fasting Muslim is a patient Muslim.

Sunday was the first evening of Ramadan and Monday is the first day of Ramadan, which means it is also the first day of fasting.  Muslims all around will wake up in the earliest hours of the morning when the sky is still dark to eat a pre-fast breakfast, called suhoor.

At dawn, all eating and drinking stops until dusk, when Muslims get together for iftar, a meal to break the fast.   It is said in Islamic tradition that feeding a fasting person gives the provider of the meal all the good deeds of the fasting person, without taking away from the faster.   For this reason, many Muslims host iftar parties or send over meals to their Muslims neighbors to get their share of rewards.

Various verses in the Qur’an speak to the tradition of fasting.   Some of the most common appear in chapter two of the book.

“Oh you who have believed, decreed upon you is fasting as it was decreed upon those before you that you may become righteous …” (Qur’an – Chapter 2, Verse 183)

Charity

Charity and other good acts are also emphasized during the month of Ramadan.   Good deeds are believed to be rewarded multiple times more than in other months in the year, so Muslims scramble to do their best whether it’s feeding the poor, making financial donations, or performing random acts of kindness.

All in all, Ramadan is a special time for Muslims where family, friends and faith take priority.   The next time you see your Muslim neighbor remember to wish them a happy and blessed Ramadan.

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The following short video – a trailer for a recent documentary about what Muslims think – does not deal with Ramadan per se, but conveys some nonetheless relevant ideas about Muslim people in today’s world.

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