As the sun sets on Sunday, June 5, a new moon will be born, and with it, Muslims around the world will witness the birth of the month of Ramadan.
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, and to adherents of the Islamic faith, it is the most holy time in the year. Many families and Muslim communities adorn their houses and mosques with lights and decorations to announce and celebrate the arrival of the holy month. During Ramadan, people gather every night to break their fast and offer extra congregational prayers of praise and gratitude to God.
Fasting during the month of Ramadan is considered one of the five pillars of Islam. It starts with the dawn of each day and ends with its sunset. Some Muslims like to go outside to view the birth of the new moon, while others use precalculated calenders. Witnessing the birth of a new crescent however, adds more meaning and a bit of fun to the occasion. Elderly, sick, children, travelers, and anyone who is not able to fast for health reasons can observe Ramadan by feeding another person in need.
Fasting isn’t really unique to the Islamic faith, or to any faith. Humans have been fasting for health and spiritual purposes since the beginning of time. What is unique about fasting in Islam is that it fosters and strengthens a sense of community. During this month, Muslims usually give extra to charity, increase their good deeds toward others, connect with family and friends, and care for the needy and less fortunate. Muslims also are required to practice self-awareness during this month and as much as possible try to better themselves, cut bad habits and create good ones. According to a prophetic teaching, Prophet Muhammad is reported to have said:
“When you are fasting, do not behave obscenely or foolishly, and if anyone argues with you or abuses you, say, ‘I am fasting. I am fasting.’ “
Ramadan is a time of spiritual focus and renewal and connecting back to things that matter. As we take a break from eating, drinking, and other physical needs, we turn toward our souls and tend to their needs. We connect with nature by observing the birth of the new moon. We connect with God through offering extra prayers. We connect with our families and friends by sharing a meal and breaking our fast together. More importantly, we connect with those who experience hunger and thirst on daily basis, all year long, not for spiritual or health reasons but out of poverty and food insecurity. May this Ramadan be a blessed time for everyone.
• Hassan M. Selim is Imam of the Islamic Center of Cedar Rapids and vice president of the Inter-Religious Council of Linn County.