In most of the Islamic world sun down tonight will start Ramadan, the ninth month of the Muslim Calendar, a holy period of fasting. The date is calculated by the first sighting of the crescent after the New Moon. Since this can vary in different parts of the world, so can the marked beginning of the month. In the United States the western calendar date will be June 18.
A movement to mark the beginning by astronomical calculation, rather than by visual confirmation thus standardizing the observance is embraced in some of the Islamic world, but bitterly resisted by some traditionalists.
|Searching for the new Crescent Moon in Karachi, Pakistan.|
This year in deeply traditional Pakistan religious leaders gathered in Karachi to try to observe the new crescent using powerful telescopes. But clouds covering the country prevented any sightings and none were reported by observers elsewhere in the country. Not willing to take the assurance of astronomers that the event did indeed occur, the authorities declared that Ramadan would not begin until June 19, a day after it is observed in much of the world.
Because it is calculated by a lunar, rather than the western solar calendar, Ramadan floats backward 10 or 11 days each year in relationship to the Gregorian Calendar.
Ramadan was the month in which the first verses of the Qur’an were revealed to the Prophet Mohammed.
The month of fasting is a period of cleansing as the faithful rededicate themselves to Allah by emphasizing patience, humility, and spirituality by an absolute fast observed by all Muslims over the age of puberty each day between dawn and dusk. The observant are also called to be more reverent and fervent in prayer. During Ramadan the entire Qur’an is often read in mosques in 30 installments.
Dawn to dusk fasting is significantly longer every day for Muslims in northern latitudes where the day is longer than close to the equator. This affects the growing number of believers across North America, northern Europe, and parts of Russia and China. That has caused tensions between traditionalists and moderates in some country. In Britain moderate scholar Dr. Usama Hasan of the Quillian Foundation issued a Fatwa—simply a ruling or opinion by a recognized Islamic scholar—that Muslims there should observe the hours of fasting at Mecca, around 12 hours a day, instead of during the up to 20 hours of daylight in the northern Scotland. Traditionalists in Great Britain’s diverse Muslim population still demand a dawn to dusk fast. It is unclear how many believers will embrace the new Fatwa.
Islam is the world’s fastest growing religion due to a population explosion across much of its traditional territories, migrations, and conversions particularly in Africa and North America. And that, along with the emergence of violent fundamentalist movements, causes much anxiety. Nowhere more so than in China where officials have once again clamped down on the Turkic-speaking Uighurs in the semi-autonomous northwest region of Xinjiang—called call East Turkestan by local activists. After years of low-key unrest and a handful of case of bombings, Chinese official fear the development of the kind of insurgency that occurred across the Caucuses in areas of the former USSR. Mirroring crackdowns on Tibetan Buddhists, Christians, and minority sects, Chinese officials have banned the observance of the fast, forced restaurants to stay open during the day and shops to sell tobacco and liquor, and ordered schools and workplaces to serve lunches and compel participation. Naturally this only builds resentment to the central government and to local Communist Party officials charged with carrying the edict out.
In the United States resentment against Muslims is on the rise yet again after the widely reported atrocities of ISIS in Syria and Iraq and attacks by other groups in Africa. A few arrests of Americans for allegedly trying to join ISIS or al Qeada, using social media for recruitment, or trying to hatch their own domestic attacks has revived some hysteria and fed right wing hate groups. Across the country mosques and Islamic centers are appealing to authorities for extra protection and beefing up their own security during Ramadan.
Customs connected to the Ramadan observance vary somewhat culturally and between Sunni and Shi’a traditions. In more secular Islamic countries evenings after the fast are often filled with feasting and entertainment, while attendance to evening services following a modest breaking of the fast is customary in more traditional societies. Acts of charity to the poor are encouraged.
The holiday of Eid-al-Fitr marks the end of the fasting period of Ramadan and the first day of the following month, after another new moon has been sighted, 29 or 30 days after the onset of Ramadan. This is the most festive of Islamic holidays marked by the donning of new clothes, feasting, and family gatherings.
The proprietor of this blog sincerely wishes his Muslim friends Ramadan Kareem!
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