The first crescent moon during the ninth month of the Islamic Lunar Calendar is Monday April 12. The event marks the first day of one of the holiest months in the Islamic religious calendar: Ramadan.
So what exactly is Ramadan?
Ramadan commemorates when God revealed the first verses of the Quran to the Prophet Muhammed, one of Islam's most celebrated and sacred religious figures. This night is often referred to as “The Night of Power” or Laylat al-Qadr in Arabic. During the month it is also believed that the gates of heaven are open and the gates of hell are closed.
Muslims across the world begin Ramadan by fasting from dawn to sunset as a testament to their faith as fasting is widely considered one of the four pillars of Islam. The Suhoor is the name given to the pre-dawn meal and the fast is broken from the Iftar meal.
Fasting from food and drink is not the only fast Muslims are expected to refrain from. Smoking, sexual activity and even negative feelings of jealousy and anger are looked down upon during the holy month. It is no surprise then that Ramadan is a time of spiritual discipline that is meant to be a time to focus on one’s relation with God, added prayer and added charity and generosity.
Of course, exceptions are made for people who cannot fast. Instead, these individuals are asked to participate in the fast another way, through donating meals to those who are hungry and other types of service work and donations.
With over 1.6 billion Muslims across the world it is no surprise then while the main religious tenants may stay the same, the way it is celebrated changes from person to person.
36 year old Muddassar Ahmed is a British-Pakistani public affairs consultant in east London where he plans to honor Ramadan through “making a concerted effort to be more present in prayer, more present and mindful when I’m eating, and combining spiritual practice with the modern wellness movement.”
“To me, Ramadan means kindness, appreciation, love, generosity and patience. I become a much calmer person and try my best to give to others and help as much as I can. Ramadan also means family; it brings my entire family together. We often have get-togethers during Iftar so Ramadan also means happiness and a lot of sweets and desserts!" says Dubai-based managing director Sumayyah Al Suwaidi.
Of course, as is the case with almost everything, Ramadan is taking on a unique flavor due to the pandemic. Influential American Muslim leaders put out guidance on how and how not to celebrate Ramadan this year. The main points of the guidance being to follow local county and state protocols, engage in mask wearing and promote vaccines to keep the community safe. Multiple pages were dedicated to important behavior in and outside of mosques to keep everyone happy, healthy and able to continue on their religious journey during Ramadan. This is not just an American protocol either, as in Saudi Arabia authorities at the Masjid al-Nabawi (Prophet's Mosque) announced that worshippers for Ramadan will be capped at 60,000 at any one time with mandatory social distancing. While that may seem like a lot the capacity in a normal, non-pandemic year is 350,000 worshippers.
Even if this years Ramadan will look a little different there is still plenty the celebrate. At the end of Ramadan a new celebration begins, Eid al-Fitr, a huge three day celebration to celebrate the Festival of the breaking of the Fast. This year the last day of Ramadan is May 12.