Thursday, August 12, 2010

Ramadan: A Special Month


Last Ramadan I did a post giving some basic information about Ramadan around the world, and some of the challenges for the mixed couple or family, whether in a Muslim majority country or not: Ramadan and the Mixed Couple/Family. I also did a series of posts related specifically to blogger Coolred's situation then, and the importance of zakat or charity, Ramadan miracles as particular spiritual and humanistic events, and generosity: Ramadan, Zakat, Sadaqa, and Charity: When Mixed Marriages Go Awry, and Mixed Families Suffer; Update; They're Off!; and the related, Eid Al-Fitr and Thanks Giving: "Do you believe in miracles?".

This year I will also do a number of posts on themes related to Ramadan, focusing on special aspects of the month as it progresses. For, in fact, the month of Ramadan is not monolithic, although the whole month is characterized by prayer, fasting, spiritual reflection, and charity towards others.

Sighting ("rukyah")

Ramadan, the 9th month of the lunar Islamic calendar, this year occurred on August 10-12 in the solar Gregorian calendar, depending on location in the world, and national and clerical decisions. Although the general day is known roughly ahead, Ramadan actually begins with the official sighting of the new moon. This is as much an interpretative art as a astronomical science, and is a source of debate among clerics. Countries follow their scientists and religious leaders in determining when to officially start Ramadan, though many choose to follow the sighting in Saudi Arabia as the Site of the Two Holy Mosques.


Aljazeera gives a good summary both of timing and of what Ramadan means for Muslims, Muslims begin Ramadan observance:

More than one billion Muslims across the world have begun observing Ramadan with soaring temperatures in the Middle East and elsewhere set to pose a challenge for many worshippers.

For the next 30 days, believers will observe the holiest month in Islam by abstaining from eating, drinking, smoking and having sex from dawn to dusk.

Religious authorities in Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, declared Wednesday as the first day of Ramadan, after announcing the sighting of the crescent moon the earlier evening.

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, home of Islam's holiest shrines, urged Muslims to seek God's "mercy" during the month.

"The holy month inspires Muslims with the noble meanings of compassion, mercy and kindness," he said in a speech, according to the official SPA news agency.

Muslims in Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, the Palestinian territories, Qatar, Syria, Libya, the United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Algeria and Tunisia also began to observe the fast on Wednesday.

In Iraq, the Sunni population begans its observances, but the larger Shia community is not expected to start its fast until Thursday, as is the case in Oman and Iran.

[...]

'Keeping hearts clean'

Faithful Muslims in Ramadan are supposed to exercise piety and spend evenings conducting prayers, and governments have taken measures to facilitate that.
Muslims are expected to exercise piety during the month of Ramadan [Reuters]

Bars and pubs in Egypt either closed during the month or switched to abstemious menus, with the exception of hotel bars, which serve alcohol only to non-Egyptians.

Dubai, a popular destination for party-goers, also closed its nightclubs or banned dancing in them.

"It is not permitted to hold entertainment activities, celebrations or parties at any time throughout the holy month of Ramadan," Mohammed Khalifa, the director government's inspection and tourism permit section, told the AFP news agency.

Indonesia said it will crack down on internet pornography. Tifatul Sembiring, the communications minister, urged Muslims to "keep hearts clean in the holy month," and said he would target websites and media that carried sexual content.

Many embassies posted messages on their websites reminding expatriates to respect Ramadan rules.


Timing

The four-faced clock, atop the Abraj Al-Bait Towers, at centre rear, 
in Mecca, Saudi Arabia stands over the holy Kabaa, foreground.

Like the sighting of the new moon which heralds the start of Ramadan, one might say that more than for other months, timing is everything. Timing of the sun's movement marks the precise limits of the fast from sunrise to sunset, as well as special prayer (tarawih) times, and the 5 obligatory prayer times of salat. This year Saudi Arabia is testing its 4 face clock, still under construction in Makkah. It is hoped that this largest clock in the world, and Makkah Time will replace Big Ben, and GMT (UTS) as being more the true centre of the globe than London.

A huge golden crescent moon, 75 feet (23 meters) in diameter, will eventually rise above the clock on a 200 foot (61 meter) spire, from which some 15 beams will shoot up into the sky, the agency added. The entire clock, from the base up to the crescent, itself will be 820 feet (251 meters) high.

Dial encrusted in gold, being lifted into place

Adaptations

A number of countries alter work hours to facilitate accomplishing the goals of Ramadan: prayer, fasting to enhance spirituality, and charity. Particularly in summer, and in a heat wave, such adaptations are necessary to prevent dehydration. Ramadan is not supposed to make the faithful ill; it is supposed to be a month of exceptional piety, submission, and reflection.
[...]
This year, most Sunni Muslims began fasting Wednesday, while Shiite Muslims in Iran, Iraq and Oman are to begin observances Thursday. Lebanon's Shiites were split.

By midday, temperatures reached the high 90s in degrees Fahrenheit (high 30s in degrees Celsius), and even topped 100 Fahrenheit, or 38 Celsius, in many parts of the Middle East.

Some took steps to ease the burden of fasting in the heat.

The governments in Jordan, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories reduced the work day of civil servants from eight to six hours. Some construction workers in Lebanon struck deals with their employers to work for a few hours at night, instead of during the day.

In the United Arab Emirates, the top religious authority issued a religious edict, or fatwa, allowing laborers to eat if it is too hot or conditions are too difficult to fast. Religious officials issued the decision in response to a question from an oil rig worker.

"God does not burden any soul beyond what it can bear, and God knows best," the fatwa said.

In Cairo, Sheik Eid Abdel-Hamid, a preacher at the Al-Azhar Mosque, told the daily al-Gomhuria that those engaged in hard physical labor can break their fast and make up for it later.

In Egypt, the West Bank and Gaza, the clock was moved back an hour. This does not change the duration of the fast, but eases it by allowing people to break their fast earlier in the evenings.
[...]
Soaring heat

By midday on Wednesday, temperatures reached the high 30 degrees Celsius and even topped 38 degrees Celsius, in many parts of the Middle East.

Egypt, whose 80 million people are mostly Muslim, has switched to winter time, moving the clock back by an hour in order to shorten the period of fasting and ease the problems in the soaring heat, a decision emulated in the Palestinian territories.

The Egyptian government newspaper Al-Gomhuriya said this year's Ramadan is "the most difficult in years" due to rising prices, power shortages and temperatures of up to 42 degrees Celsius.

The governments in Jordan, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories reduced the work day of civil servants from eight to six hours ,while some construction workers in Lebanon struck deals with their employers to work for a few hours at night, instead of during the day, to escape the heat.

In the United Arab Emirates, the top religious authority issued a religious edict, or fatwa, allowing labourers to eat if it is too hot or conditions are too difficult to fast.

Religious officials issued the decision in response to a question from an oil rig worker. "God does not burden any soul beyond what it can bear, and God knows best," the fatwa said.
[...]

Ramadan Apps

Applications to help with Ramadan observances began in 2003-2004, and have multiplied since. Nokia, among others, offers free apps. "This year’s Ramadan applications a include the Holy Quran, Prayer Times, Hadith, Boyoot Allah, Arabica, Mozzaker, and Makkah and Madinah. New features include Quran recitation from multiple recitors ( which we demanded last year) from which users can choose to download in MP3 format. Prayer timings and Qibla direction are provided for 1000 cities in 200 countries, along with the ability to add, remove, update and edit any location using the GPS."




Ramadan Applications suggest what might be useful, and what observances and prayers are part of Ramadan: The Holy Quran; Prayer Times; Qibla direction; Hadith by different authors; Boyoot Allah (to locate mosques throughout the world); Arabica (help for non-Arabic speaking Muslims to read and understand Quran, and learn hadith and prayers with information on Makkah and Madinah, Hajj and Umrah); Mozzaker (for daily Azkar/Athkar (supplications) and selected supplications).

Ramadan images 2010:

A Palestinian Muslim woman stands at the entrance of her house holding a traditional Ramadan lantern while celebrating the announcing of the holy month of Ramadan, in an alley of Jerusalem's old city, Tuesday, Aug. 10 2010. Ramadan, when observant Muslims fast from dawn to dusk, will begin Wednesday. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)

A young Palestinian Muslim girl walks in an alley of Jerusalem's old city holding a traditional Ramadan lantern while celebrating with other children the announcing of the holy month of Ramadan, Tuesday, Aug. 10 2010. Ramadan, when observant Muslims fast from dawn to dusk, will begin Wednesday. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)

Iraqi Sunni Muslims embrace each other at the Umm al-Qura mosque in Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2010. The Iraqi Sunni Endowment announced Wednesday will be the first day of Ramadan according to the sighting of the half moon. Muslims throughout the world will be celebrating the holy fasting month of Ramadan, the holiest month in the Islamic calendar, refraining from eating, drinking, smoking and sexual relations from sunrise to sunset. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)

Iraqi Sunni Muslims embrace each other at the Umm al-Qura mosque in Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2010. The Iraqi Sunni Endowment announced Wednesday will be the first day of Ramadan according to the sighting of the half moon. Muslims throughout the world will be celebrating the holy fasting month of Ramadan, the holiest month in Islamic calendar, refraining from eating, drinking, smoking and sexual relations from sunrise to sunset. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)

A Bahraini man scans the sky at dusk Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2010, in Hamad Town, Bahrain, for the sliver of a crescent moon that would indicate the start Wednesday of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, a time of prayer, fasting and charitable giving. Clouds hampered skywatchers in the Persian Gulf island nation. (AP Photo/Hasan Jamali)

Indonesian Muslims offer an evening prayer called 'Tarawih' , at the beginning of the holy fasting month of Ramadan at Istiqlal mosque in Jakarta, Indonesia, Tuesday, Aug.10, 2010. During Ramadan, the holiest month in Islamic calendar, Muslims refrain from eating, drinking, smoking and sex from dawn to dusk. (AP Photo/Achmad Ibrahim)

How did you learn about the start of Ramadan?
Are you observing among family, friends, and community, or more on your own?
Any other comments, thoughts, impressions, experiences?

Related Posts:
Ramadan and the Mixed Couple/Family
Ramadan, Zakat, Sadaqa, and Charity:
When Mixed Marriages Go Awry, and Mixed Families Suffer;
Update;
They're Off!;
Eid Al-Fitr and Thanks Giving:
"Do you believe in miracles?"

4 comments:

Susanne said...

I like that the app includes accents! :-) It's interesting to see how certain countries have changed the hours/time/whatever to accommodate fasting in this heat. I wonder if this happens often or if this has been a 'freak' thing due to a very hot summer.

Also interesting how they want that crescent clock to take the place of Big Ben. Hmmmm

Thanks for the nice post and pictures!

single4now said...

Lovely post. :D I was wondering about the winter time change and how it would affect fasting since the number of hours will not really change. I guess people will be able to go home early and hence make it easier for them.

I like the mobile applications but the so called Ovi store needs to be accessed from the mobile's internet or can it be downloaded onto one's computer and then transferred to the mobile?

Shafiq said...

Single4now,
Turning back the clock means an extra hour of your fast is spent sleeping rather than working. If for example a fast is from 6am to 6pm, turning back the clock would lead to your fast being from 5am to 5pm. Assuming that you don't change your daily routine, it means you're spending that extra hour sleeping.

Susanne,
I think this is because Ramadhaan is in summer now and the fasts are getting longer and the days hotter. They'll probably do this for the next couple of years (and I won't be surprised if other countries follow suit).

But I don't want the crescent clock to replace the Big Ben - I quite like living in the centre of the world :P
--

Ramadhaan is the time of year that I always dread during the build up to it, but love when it actually arrives. All the religious stuff aside, spending 30 days willingly preventing yourself from eating during the daytime and thinking about the potential consequences of every action of yours is pretty exhausting, but also liberating.

Ramadhaan, Lent and Sabbath fasts are, in my opinion, the greatest achievements of the Abrahamic religions.

But yeah, we have ridiculously long fasts at the moment (16 hours) and they're going to get even longer in the next couple of years (up to 20 hours). I think I may migrate to the southern hemisphere when that happens.

Chiara said...

Thank you all for your comments and kind words.

Susanne--As far as I know the change of hours is more necessary in summer generally and this summer in particular, but can be done in winter too. In Morocco they usually go to a "continuous day" ie work through lunch and leave early.
Yes I expect to see academic papers on "De-centring time: the Makkah clock and the East-West Divide". Hmmm maybe that one will be mine! :P :)

Single4now--the season doesn't affect the fasting times as they are set by the diurnal rhythm of the sun. However, the total number of daylight hours makes the fasting time longer or shorter depending on season and location. There are special calculations for the polar lands of the Midnight Sun! :)

Shafiq--Good explanation of how Daylight Savings Time impacts fasting! Thanks for sharing your knowledge and views. Fasting or dietary restrictions are a good reminder of the challenges for those who lack, and of one's one biology.

Thanks again to all for your comments!

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