This evening at sunset, the Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins.  Here at the McAllen Public Library, we would like to wish our Muslim community a Ramadan Mubarak (Happy Ramadan) and also explain what it is to people who might not know.

The month-long holiday is the holiest month of the year for Muslims, and is believed to mark the time that God revealed the Qur’an (the holy book of Islam) to the prophet Muhammad.  Ramadan occurs during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, which is based on the lunar cycle and began in 622 C.E.  The month begins when the crescent moon appears and ends with the new moon (when the moon disappears).  Ramadan begins about eleven days earlier each year.  Because of its shifting schedule, Ramadan sometimes occurs during the winter when days are short, and sometimes during the summer when days are long.  The cycle can be seen in the graphic below:


The length of the day matters because during Ramadan, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset.  It applies to all healthy adults, but children, people who are sick, travellers, and women who are pregnant, post-natal, or menstruating, are exempt.  Breakfast, or sahoor, is eaten just before sunrise, and dinner, or iftar, is eaten soon after sunset.  The fasting (or Sawm) is important because it is one of the five pillars of Islam.  However, it does not mean just fasting from food, it also means abstaining from vices such as smoking cigarettes, using foul language, gossiping, etc.  During this month, Muslims are encouraged to continue with their daily work schedule as normal.  Working while you are hungry is seen as a way to practice patience and endurance.  It is also a time to do charitable works and help others who are more needy, as well as be thankful and spend time with the community and family.  Rather than being just a physical ritual, it is seen as a time for reflection and spiritually recharging.

Right after sunset, the fast is traditionally broken by eating dates, and then a larger meal is celebrated with family and friends.  This meal is known as iftar.  At the end of the month, Muslims celebrate Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan and the end of the fast.  It falls on the first day of the next month, and it is forbidden to fast on this day.  Observant Muslims believe it is the day that everyone who fasted the previous month is rewarded.  It is celebrated with prayer, meals with family and friends, and gifts are often exchanged.

For some interesting articles, videos, and photos about the month of Ramadan, check out these links:

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