For some 23 percent of the people of Earth, the holiest month of the year begins this week. The first day of Ramadan is observed according to local visibility of the new crescent moon.
According to an article in Al Jazeera, in the United States and Europe, Muslim communities rely on astronomical calculations and will thus observe Ramadan from the eve of May 15, with the first day of fasting May 16, while Saudi Arabia and most Arab countries are expected to sight the new moon on May 15, Morocco, Iran and Pakistan may see it on the following day because they started the current lunar month one day later.
Fasting during Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam. Muslims fast as an act of worship, a chance to get closer to God and a way to become more compassionate to those in need.
Each day for the month of Ramadan, Muslims abstain from eating, drinking, smoking and sex from sunrise to sunset to focus on spirituality, good deeds and charity. There are exceptions to fasting, for example, children, the elderly, the sick, and women who are pregnant or nursing.
In the Qur’an, Allah mentions Ramadan by name. In a translation by Dr. Muhammad M. Abu Laylah, former head of the English Department of Al-Azhar, according to the Britannica the chief center of Islamic and Arabic learning in the world:
“The month of Ramadan in which was revealed the Qur’an, a guidance for mankind, and clear proofs of the guidance, and the Criterion (of right and wrong). And whosoever of you is present, let him fast the month, and whosoever of you is sick or on a journey, (let him fast the same) number of other days. Allah desires for you ease; He desires not hardship for you, and (He desires) that ye should complete the period, and that ye should magnify Allah for having guided you, and that peradventure [perhaps] ye may be thankful.” (Al-Baqarah 2:185)
An article in The New York Times discusses the difficulties faced by Muslims in northern climes. The time between sunrise and sunset in Iceland, for example, where some 1,000 residents are Muslim, is as much as 22 hours during Ramadan, making the fasting period far more challenging than on the Arabian Peninsula, where days are fairly standard in length throughout the year and fasting never exceeds 15 hours.
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