In a few days, the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims will be searching the sky again for the crescent moon, this time signaling the end of the holy month of Ramadan.
For 30 days, observers rise before dawn for a meal to last the whole day, followed by morning prayer. They neither eat nor drink anything until sunset, when they have a small snack, called an Iftar, and then participate in evening prayer.
A full dinner follows.
With dispensations for small children, the elderly, women who are menstruating or pregnant, those who are ill or traveling, the faithful will go about their daily routine – going to work or school.
Observance is one of the five pillars or duties of Islam, along with testimony of faith, prayer, charitable giving and making Hajj, or the pilgrimage to Mecca.
If the fast is broken early it is ‘invalidated’ for the day, but the observer can make up for it by fasting at another time of the year or donating a meal to someone who is hungry.
The Muslim calendar means that there is no fixed date for Ramadan. It can occur in the winter months, when days are short and the fasting period can be as few as 10 hours, or, as now, the longest days of the year, where the fast stretches out to as many as 15 hours.
Ramadan is a spiritual holiday, inviting the observer to spend more time learning and studying the scriptures of the Koran, but it is also considered a time of mental and emotional fasting: especially of negative thoughts, gossip and anger.
Eid Al-Fitr, the holiday giving thanks to God for a successful Ramadan, begins June 3.
On the first day of Eid, Muslims are actually forbidden to fast. After the morning prayers, the day begins with a special sweet dish, and the rest of the day is celebrated with family and friends. It is common for gifts to be exchanged and new outfits bought and worn.
Muslims greet each other with the term ‘Eid Mubarak,” which means happy holidays. Although it is only one day formally, it is common to continue the gatherings of friends and family for two to three more days.