Muslims worldwide are marking the start of the month of Ramadan with dawn-to-dusk fasting either on Wednesday, May 16, or Thursday, May 17, based on the sighting of the moon.
Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam and is observed by abstaining from eating, drinking, sex, gossip and cursing. Muslims focus on meditative acts like prayer, reading the Quran and charity during this month which will fall on especially long summer days this year for Muslims in the Northern Hemisphere.
It is compulsory for all Muslims to fast except those who are exempted: children, the elderly, the sick, women who are pregnant, nursing or menstruating, and people travelling.
Muslims in the United States, like those in many other parts of the world, were expecting to start the fast on Wednesday as earlier announced by the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), the principal organisation representing Muslims in America.
“The Astronomical New Moon is on Tuesday, May 15 … On that day, somewhere in the Pacific Ocean at sunset, the elongation is 8 degrees and the moon is 5 degrees above the sun. Therefore the first day of Ramadan is Wednesday, May 16,” said the ISNA. If the moon is not sighted on Tuesday night, Ramadan will automatically begin on Thursday.
Saudi Arabia will observe the Ramadan fast on Thursday, May 17, as the crescent moon was not observable on Tuesday, the authorities announced in a statement. North African countries and those in the Middle East will also begin the fast on Thursday.
Significance of Ramadan
Ramadan is the ninth month on the Islamic calendar, right after the month of Shaban, which is believed to be the time when the doors of hell are firmly sealed and the doors to heaven are wide open.
According to the holy book of Muslims, The Qur’an was first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad during Ramadan.
The lunar month lasts between 29 and 30 days depending on the sighting of the moon.
Muslims who fast during Ramadan abstain from eating, drinking and sex from dawn to dusk for the entire month.
Before the daily fast, Muslims have a pre-dawn meal called suhoor and also come together at dusk to break the fast with the meal called iftar.
Fasting during Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam and is compulsory for all Muslims except those who are ill, travelling, elderly, pregnant, breastfeeding, diabetic or menstruating.
Many pilgrims from around the world travel to the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah for Umrah – a pilgrimage that can be undertaken at any time of the year – during Ramadan.
Muslims are encouraged to avoid gossip, arguments and fighting while they observe self-restraint, self-control and self-discipline during the month.
They are also encouraged to engage in more charity work while they fast to bring them closer to God and remind them of the suffering of the less fortunate.
The common greetings during the month are “Ramadan Mubarak” and “Ramadan Kareem”, wishing the recipient a “blessed” and generous Ramadan.
At the end of the 29 or 30 days of fasting, Muslims celebrate Eid al-Fitr which literally means “festival of breaking the fast” in Arabic.
On the day, Muslims attend a special prayer in the morning at outdoor locations or mosques. The prayer consists of a sermon followed by the short congregational prayer.
After the prayer, they visit friends and relatives, give gifts especially to children, and make phone calls to distant relatives to exchange greetings of “Eid Mubarak” or “Blessed Eid”.