Ramadan – ‘At the break of dawn’
For most expats Ramadan is a little known event and is mainly referred to as the month when the shops only open from around 12noon until 2 – 3pm during the day then open in the evening until the early hours of the morning; when the road traffic in the evenings become unbearably congested; when you cannot eat or drink in public; and when tempers are raised due to the extensive fasting periods. Well, whilst that may be true, there is a lot more to this most significant period of time in the Islamic diary.
Iftar or Iftaree, refers to the evening meal for breaking the daily fast during the Islamic month of Ramadan. Or a meal served at the end of the fasting day during Ramadan, to break the day's fast. Literally, "breakfast" Iftar during Ramadan is often done as a community, with Muslims gathering to break their fast together.
For the shiite’s the time for Iftar is 12 to 15 minutes after Sunset.
For the sunni’s they break their fast exactly at sunset, meaning they could still see the light of the sun as long as it has set and as soon as prayer calls are said.
There are distinct differences of practices between the sunni’s and shiite’s and one has to be very careful not to make assumptions about these differences.
Sunnis form the overwhelming majority in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Yemen, Pakistan, Indonesia, Turkey, Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. Shiites form the majority only in Iran, Iraq, Bahrain, and Azerbaijan, but they constitute sizable minorities in Afghanistan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Yemen (source: http://middleeast.about.com/od/religionsectarianism/a/me070907sunnis.htm).
It is better to offer 'Magrib Namaz/salat' and then break one's fast, preferably with water, milk or dates.
Did you know that Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar? It is also believed to be the month when the Holy Quran was sent down from Heaven as "guidance unto men, a declaration of direction, and a means of Salvation."
Did you know that the Muslim calendar is based on the lunar cycle, which is approximately 11-13 days shorter than the Gregorian calendar.
Did you know that the holiday of Ramadan may fall during any month of the Gregorian calendar? It takes approximately 35 years for Ramadan to cycle through the entire solar/Gregorian calendar.
Did you know that during Ramadan, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset?
Did you know that the daily fasts during the month of Ramadan are broken with prayer and meal called Iftar? Following Iftar, it is customary to visit family and friends. Especially devout Muslims may spend the night studying the Quran. The Ramadan fast is resumed each day at daybreak.
Did you know that Muslims traditionally break their fast with dates, since that is what the Prophet Muhammad is believed to have done?
Did you know that in addition to abstaining from food and drink, Muslims also refrain from smoking and sexual relations? This is because the month is seen as a time for spiritual reflection and discipline.
Did you know that health experts estimate food consumption actually increases 50 per cent during the month of Ramadan?
Did you know that according to a government-run survey in Tunisia, 59 per cent of women and 35 per cent of men gained weight during Ramadan, despite fasting for some 14 hours a day.
Did you know that fasting during the month of Ramadan fulfils one of the five pillars of the Muslim faith? The other pillars are: Testimony of faith, Prayer, Almsgiving, and Pilgrimage.
Did you know that Muslim faith began in what is today Saudi Arabia in 570 CE? That is when the faith's prophet, Muhammad, received his first prophecy from G-d (known by Muslims as Allah) at the age of 40.
Did you know that one-fifth of the world's population is Muslim?
Did you know that the country with the largest Muslim population is Indonesia?
Did you know that Pakistan and India are home to the second and third largest Muslim populations, respectively?
Did you know that the terms Arab and Muslim are not synonymous? "Arab" refers to people who share a linguistic, cultural, ethnic and historic heritage from the Arabian Peninsula. The term Muslim refers to those individuals who are adherents to the Islamic faith. Not all Arabs are Muslim, nor are all Muslims Arab.
Did you know that the terms Sunni and Shiite refer to two different sects within the Islamic faith? There are many significant differences between the two sects, their practises and their beliefs. However, their primary difference is founded on their differing opinions about religious succession in regard to the prophet Mohammad.
Did you know there are estimated to be between 1 and 1.4 billion Muslims worldwide?
Did you know that there are an estimate 2-7 million Muslims living in the United States? It is difficult to pinpoint the exact number since the U.S. Census cannot, by law, ask questions about religion.
Did you know that the end of the month of Ramadan is marked with a joyous festival called Eid al-Fitr? Eid al-Fitr literally means the "Festival of Breaking the Fast," during which many Muslims partake in elaborate feasts. They also wear their finest clothes, while simultaneously increasing their almsgiving. (source for the Did you know section is http://www.holidays.net/ramadan/did_you_know.htm)
When does Ramadan begin?
That's a good question! More than 1 billion Muslims around the world celebrate Ramadan, but they do not share a consensus about when the holiday officially begins.
The debate over the start of Ramadan began back in the 7th century, when the prophet Muhammad instructed his followers to begin their fast the morning after visibly sighting the thin crescent moon that marks the beginning of a new month.
Wanting to follow the prophet's instructions literally, religious leaders decided not to rely on astronomical calculations to accurately predict the appearance of the new moon. Rather, they waited until they could see the new moon with their naked eye.
However, differences in geography and even weather conditions meant that not everyone saw the moon at the same time -- which, therefore, meant that Muslims in different parts of the world began the fast on different days.
Who has to fast?
The fast is obligatory on all sexually mature adult Muslims. Those who are mentally handicapped or insane are not considered "adult" and do not have to fast. People who are ill do not have to fast if it would further damage their health; however, they should make up the missed fasts later when they become well again. Women who are pregnant or nursing are considered "ill" because fasting would harm their babies. As well, women who are having their menstrual period or who are experiencing post-partum bleeding should refrain from fasting during the days of their bleeding; the combination of blood loss and fasting could damage their health. Children who have not yet reached puberty are not required to fast. However, it is good for them to practice, and for this reason many Muslim children do fast starting from age seven or nine. A doctor should be consulted about how much fasting is safe for a growing child. People who are traveling may also break their fast if they feel that keeping it would harm them; as well, soldiers on guard duty for whom maximum readiness is a must may break their fast. In all cases of illness or fear of illness, the missed days need to be made up later. (this section source is Al-Muhajabah http://www.muhajabah.com/ramadan-faq.htm)
So, as we enter Ramadan next month bear a thought and consideration for our hosts and their beliefs during this time of the year and religious event.
Contributed by Maxine Smith – with noted sources throughout the article.
Women's Skills Bureau (www.wsb-ksa.com)
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