“Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding.”
It’s nearly that wonderful time of year again, when approximately 1.8 billion Muslims will be celebrating joyfully across the world. No, dates didn’t go on sale half price – it’s almost the end of Ramadan! A day of festivities will occur at the end of this week, to celebrate that God has accepted their month of fasting, spiritual reflection, and good deeds. But a lot of people don’t understand much about this month. Why exactly don’t they eat all day? What does this holiday mean to them, and why do they celebrate it? As mentioned in my Marrying Muslim post I’ll periodically be giving simple and basic explanations in my blog to anyone out there who like myself either didn’t grow up around any Muslims or just doesn’t get what Ramadan is all about – from an outsiders point of view. I am in no way, shape or form an expert on this religion, just explaining some very simple points in hopes of answering questions or clearing up misconceptions that people may have about Ramadan, through my personal experiences. Everything is put in layman’s terms; I’ve included some facts that I didn’t originally know and wondered about, as well as links throughout if you’d like to read and understand more in detail from the experts!
So what is Ramadan? Simply put: it is a month of fasting from dawn until dusk, completed by Muslims worldwide. This means no eating, drinking, smoking, or sexual activity from sunrise to sunset – no, not even water (this is a question my husband and many other Muslims get all the time!). It is one of the ‘5 Pillars of Islam’; these are the framework of the religion, a guide for Muslims to practice and simply put: ‘5 big things you’ve got to do to get to Heaven.’
When is it? The dates of Ramadan actually change! Each year it comes ten days earlier than the one before; it is based on the lunar calendar. So it’s not the same set date, like Christians have Christmas Day on December 25th. It moves every year and lasts about 30 days, based on sightings of the moon.
What is the ‘Eid’? Eid can translate a few different ways but simply means ‘celebration’, ‘festivity’, or ‘holiday’ – it is the day that marks the end of Ramadan, when Muslims celebrate. Islam has two traditional Eids a year.
Why do they fast? This answer is multifaceted so I will add a couple links, but as I mentioned the act of fasting during Ramadan is one of the pillars of Islam and each Muslim must fulfill these in his or her lifetime. The fast is meant to bring them closer to God, and remind them of those who are less fortunate. A more in depth explanation of why they fast here and here.
Does everyone fast? Only those who are healthy and fit are meant to fast. This excludes children, the elderly, pregnant women, anyone who is ill, and other circumstances.
Other things I didn’t know ? The importance of patience, honesty, and improving your character throughout Ramadan! If you don’t know much about it, it’s easy to assume that Ramadan is just about not eating all day. But abstaining from ‘bad behavior’ is also an extremely important component of fasting. Building up compassion; putting yourself in another persons shoes, like the millions of people around the world who do not have food, shelter and other blessings, can put into perspective how lucky you are. Experiencing how difficult their struggle must be – even for a short period of time- can build empathy towards others and strengthen your compassion for the less fortunate. Also appreciation; by giving up the basic blessings you usually take for granted on a daily basis, like food and water, you can begin to appreciate their value. ‘You don’t realize what you’ve got until it’s gone’ really applies here! It is a time to reflect on those in this world who have been given much less than them, and change for the better.
How do Muslims celebrate their holiday? Like all other humans on Earth! Gatherings with friends and family, enjoying delicious treats, giving each other gifts, and some even put up lights and decorations in their homes. Sound familiar?
Please click the links I added if you’d like a better explanation or further clarification on anything I talked about. Or you could even, I don’t know, ASK a Muslim about it! I can’t speak for everyone of course but I know my Muslim friends and family would gladly answer any questions you have – to explain what they do, why they do it, what it means to them, and perhaps help you realize that although different, we all enjoy and celebrate very similarly. Maybe you’ll even get invited to a celebration (careful, that garlic sauce is worth converting over!). Joking aside- if you know someone celebrating this year, tell them “Ramadan Kareem”, “Ramadan Mubarak” or even “Happy Ramadan” works. They truly love when people acknowledge Ramadan and are happy about it, as it’s such an amazing and spiritual time for the Muslim community. So Eid Mubarak to all celebrating this week, and blessings and peace to all, whether you’re Muslim or not!