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The Ninth month of the Muslim year is known as Ramzan when Mohammed is supposed to have received his first revelations. In commemoration of this, Moslems fast from sunrise until sunset during the month leading up to Mohammed’s “Night of Power” when according to tradition Gabriel first told him of his mission. It is said that on this “Night of Power” the gates of Paradise are open, the gates of Hell shut and the devils are tied in chains.

The much-anticipated start of the month is based on a combination of physical sightings of the moon and astronomical calculations. The practice varies from place to place, some places relying heavily on sighting reports and others totally on calculations. In the United States, most communities follow the decision of the Islamic Society of North America, which accepts bonafide sightings of the new moon anywhere in the United States as the start of the new month. The end of the month, marked by the celebration of ‘Eid-ul-Fitr, is similarly determined.

The Ramzan fast lasts the entire month, but only during the daylight hours. “Eat and drink until so much of the dawn appears that a white thread may be distinguished from a black. Then keep the fast completely until night” says the Koran. The fast of Ramzan is the most carefully observed of all religious duties by many Moslems. The daily period of fasting starts at the breaking of dawn and ends at the setting of the sun. Not only must they refrain from food and drink between dawn and dark, but they must not commit any unworthy act. One lie can make a day’s fast meaningless. The day is supposed to be spent in prayer and meditation. Once the sunset gun has sounded, the feasting begins. The usual practice is to have a pre-fast meal (suhoor) before dawn and a post-fast meal (iftar) after sunset.

The holy month of Ramzan is a period of contemplation, compassion and self-control for Muslims the world over. It is the time of the year when Muslims abstain from food, drink, and sexual relations from dawn to dusk. The month-long fasting culminates in the festivities of Id-ul-Fitr. It was during Ramzan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, that the Holy Quran was believed to have been sent down from heaven and revealed to Prophet Mohammad. Fasting during Ramzan, or Ramadan, as it is called in the West, is one of the five pillars of Islam, apart from the Announcement of Faith, Salaat (praying five times a day), Zakat (right of the poor on the wealth of the rich) and Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in a lifetime).

During this period, the focus is on fasting, prayers, a strict moral code, restraint and compassion for the poor and needy. Spiritual consciousness and social responsibility take precedence over the concerns of daily life during Ramzan. The 27th day of Ramzan has a special significance for Muslims. Called the Laylat-al-Qadr or the “Night of Power”, it was on this night during Ramzan that the Quran was sent to the first level of heaven from the seventh level and then revealed to Prophet Mohammad in parts over 23 years. It is believed that Allah (the God Almighty) sends down his angels to pray for the salvation of believers on this night. It is also called the night of mercy and light and prayers on this night have greater power than a thousand other prayers.

According to the Quran, on this night God determines the course of the world for the following year. FASTING The Ramzan fast is mandatory for all healthy Muslim adults. It means total abstention from eating, drinking, smoking and sexual relations from dawn to sundown for 29 – 30 days of the month. Muslims get up early during Ramzan to take their sahoor, a pre-dawn meal, before starting their fast. At the end of each day, the fast is broken with prayer and a meal called iftaar.

Iftaar gatherings are common in India, where Muslims visit their friends and relatives and together break their fast. In India, Iftaar parties are also hosted by prominent non-Muslims for their Muslim friends. Muslim children are encouraged to keep this tough fast, though it becomes mandatory only after they reach puberty. Though this fast is essential for all adult Muslims, some people can be exempted under specific circumstances.

The elderly, the chronically ill, pregnant or nursing women can miss the fast, but then, they have to feed at least one poor person every day in Ramzan. In case someone is very ill, he/she can postpone the fast and keep the fast another day after Ramzan. Travellers can also defer fasting till they reach their homes. The month-long fasting comes to a conclusion with Id-ul-Fitr, which is celebrated on the first day of Shawal, the tenth month of Islamic calendar.

Id-ul-Fitr, the most important and joyous Muslim festival, is a sort of thanksgiving to Allah for giving the believers an opportunity to observe the fast. In India, Muslims celebrate Id-ul-Fitr by attending special prayers in mosques, visiting friends and relatives and distributing sweets and gifts. Dressed in their latest best, they cook and serve a special sweet — the delicious Sewain. Children receive special gifts and money on this day. Little Bairam And at the end of Ramzan comes Little Bairam, a festival of good will and gift giving somewhat like Christmas in spirit.

The last ten days of Ramzan are a time of special spiritual power as everyone tries to come closer to God through devotions and good deeds. The night on which the first verses of the Qur’an were revealed to the Prophet, known as the Night of Power (Lailat ul-Qadr), is generally taken to be the 27th night of the month. The Quran states that this night is better than a thousand months. Therefore many Muslims spend the entire night in prayer. Ramzan Id Celebrated to mark the end of Ramzan – the month of prayers and fasting according to the Muslim calendar. It is an occasion for feasting and rejoicing. The faithful gather in mosques to pray; friends and relatives meet to exchange greetings. The Id is celebrated according to the first sighting of the moon after the arduous month-long fasting period. This phase is very severe with restrictions going so far as disallowing swallowing saliva. The fast has to be observed from dawn till dusk. The evenings are very colorful with practically every Muslim family practicing complete gluttony after difficult abstinence through the days.

Some parts where the population of Muslims is high, even the restaurants do not serve food throughout the day, and all gear up for sundown, with lots of food stalls being setup, all waiting for the moment when everyone can unleash on the goodies. Food in Ramzan Since Ramzan is a special time, Muslims in many parts of the world prepare certain favorite foods during this month. It is a common practice for Muslims to break their fast at sunset with dates (iftar), following the custom of Prophet Muhammad.

This is followed by the sunset prayer, which is followed by dinner. Since Ramzan emphasizes community aspects and since everyone eats dinner at the same time, Muslims often invite one another to share in the Ramzan evening meal. Some Muslims find that they eat less for dinner during Ramzan than at other times due to stomach contraction. However, as a rule, most Muslims experience little fatigue during the day since the body becomes used to the altered routine during the first week of Ramzan.

Muslims use many phrases in various languages to congratulate one another for the completion of the obligation of fasting and the ‘Eid-ul-Fitr festival. Here is a sampling of them: “‘Eid mubarak (A Blessed ‘Eid)” “Kullu am wa antum bi-khair” (May you be well throughout the year) – Arabic “Atyab at-tihani bi-munasabat hulul shahru Ramzan al-Mubarak” (The most precious congratulations on the occasion of the coming of Ramzan) – Arabic “Elveda, ey Ramazan” (Farewell, O Ramzan) – Turkish “Kullu am wa antum bi-khair” (May you be well throughout the year) – Arabic