Today is the start of Ramadan. Ramadan is an Islamic religious observance that takes place during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. Muslims believe Ramadan is the month in which Allah revealed the Koran (or Qur’an) to the prophet Mohammed. It is considered the most venerated month of the Islamic year. This year, Ramadan will last from September 13 – October 12. If you’re planning to travel to an Islamic country such as Dubai, Morocco or Indonesia, it would be wise to know more about this month, and the customs surrounding it.
During Ramadan, Muslims abstain from eating, drinking, smoking and sexual relations between sunrise and sunset. Muslims believe that fasting teaches patience, empathy for the less fortunate, and purifies the body and soul. Ramadan is also a time for inner reflection, prayers to Allah, visiting the mosque, reading the Koran, charity and self-accountability. Not all Muslims are required to fast, however. Children, the elderly, the sick and pregnant women are viewed as excused. Women on their period are also excused, and may just make up the days missed.
Muslims usually have two main meals of the day during Ramadan. The first is called the El Fetar (or al-fitr) which literally means break fast. This meal comes after the sunset call to prayer. Since Ramadan places an emphasis on the community, friends and family often get together for the evening meal. There is a festive atmosphere often accompanied by live music and traditional dancing. Just before sunrise is the second big meal, called the El Sohour.
Ramadan ends with the holiday Eid al-Fitr, the “Festival of the breaking of the fast”. The festival is comparable to Christmas in the west. Family members and friends come together to celebrate. There’s an abundance of food and children get presents or small amounts of money. Food is shared with the less fortunate and many make donations to their local mosque.
Tomorrow, I’ll write about how Ramadan can affect your travel, and how to behave during Ramadan.