Islam is one of the world's major religions, and is the final link in the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition of monotheism (belief in One God). Islam has two major religious celebrations.
One of them, known as Eid al-Adha (Festival of Sacrifice), takes place during the time of the Hajj, or annual pilgrimage to the city of Makkah (in modern-day Saudi Arabia).
The other celebration occurs after the completion of Ramadan, the Islamic month during which Muslims (believers in Islam) fast daily from dawn to sunset as part of an effort towards self-purification and betterment. This holiday is known as Eid al-Fitr (Festival of Breaking the Fast).
The Lunar Calendar
Among the most important duties for a Muslim is fasting during the Islamic month of Ramadan, which is the ninth of the twelve months in the Islamic lunar calendar.
Muslims use a lunar calendar for many of their religious observances. A new month in the lunar calendar is determined by the appearance of a new crescent moon.
Since this occurs every 29 or 30 days, the lunar month is generally 1 or 2 days shorter than a typical month in the Gregorian calendar. Similarly, a lunar year is about 11 days shorter than a typical Gregorian year.
As a result, dates of events in the Islamic lunar year "move forward" about 11 days every year. For example, in 1995 Ramadan began on February 1, and in 1996, it began on January 22.
The Importance of Ramadan
Ramadan is important for Muslims is because it is believed to be the month in which the first verses of the Holy Quran (the divine scripture) were revealed by Allah (God) to Prophet Muhammad (570-632 C.E.).
From time to time, Muhammad used to go out from Makkah, where he was born and where he worked as a caravan trader, to reflect and meditate in solitude. Like Abraham before him, he had never accepted his people's worship of many gods, and felt a need to withdraw to a quiet place to reflect on the One God.
One night, while contemplating in a cave near Makkah, he heard a voice call out, telling him to "Read!" Muhammad protested that he was unable to read. The voice insisted again, and then a third time, and Muhammad found himself reciting the first verses of the Quran:
"Read, in the name of thy Lord, Who created?
Created man, out of a clot (embryo).
Proclaim! And thy Lord is Most Bountiful,
He Who taught the use of the pen?
Taught man that which he knew not.
Nay, but man doth transgress all bounds,
In that he looketh upon himself as self-sufficient.
Verily, to thy Lord is the return (of all)." (ch.96: 1-8)
The voice was that of the angel Gabriel, and he confirmed that Muhammad was selected for an important and challenging mission?he was to call people to monotheism and righteousness.
Muslims consider the Quran to be God's speech recorded in the Arabic language, and transmitted to humanity through Muhammad, who is considered the last of the prophets.
This tradition of God-chosen prophets or messengers is believed to include such figures as Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and Jesus.
Muslims believe that over a period of twenty-three years, various verses and chapters of the Quran were revealed to Muhammad through Gabriel. The Quran is comprised of 114 chapters of varying length, with titles such as "Abraham," "The Pilgrimage," "Mary," and "Repentance."
During Ramadan, Muslims fast from dawn to sunset every day. This means not consuming food and drink, including water, during the daylight hours.
For married adults, it also includes refraining from marital relations during the hours of fasting (i.e. the daylight hours).
In the Arabic language, fasting is known as Sawm. Muslims arise early in the morning during Ramadan to have a pre-dawn breakfast meal, known as Suhoor. At the end of the day, the fast is completed by taking the Iftar meal, which usually includes dates, fresh fruits, appetizers, beverages and dinner.
Later in the evening, Muslims attend special nightly Tarawih prayers at their local Masjid.
Each night during Ramadan, approximately 1/30th of the Quran is recited in the Tarawih prayers, so that the entire scripture is recited in the course of the 29 or 30 days of the month.
Why Muslims Fast
For Muslims, fasting has a number of benefits:
1. It helps one to feel compassion for those who are less fortunate and underprivileged, since each day Muslims feel greater appreciation for what they have as a result of feeling hunger and thirst.
2. It allows one to build a sense of self-control and willpower, which can be beneficial throughout life in dealing with temptations and peer pressure. Through fasting, Muslims learn to control their natural urges such as hunger and thirst, and thus are able to better resist temptations for things which are not necessary, such as drugs or other unhealthy or harmful substances and behaviors.
3. It offers a time for Muslims to "purify" their bodies as well as their souls, by developing a greater sense of humility, spirituality and community. Ramadan is a very spiritual time for Muslims, and often they invite each other to one another's homes to break the fast and pray together. A greater sense of generosity and forgiveness is also characteristic of this time.
As with other duties in Islam, fasting becomes obligatory (i.e. one becomes accountable) after the age of puberty.
After the end of Ramadan, a very festive and joyous holiday is celebrated by Muslims, known as Eid al-Fitr [eed ul fit-ur], the Festival of Breaking the Fast. On the day of the Eid, Muslims attend special congregational prayers in the morning, wearing their nicest clothes.
After the completion of prayers and a special sermon, Muslims rise to greet and hug one another, saying "Eid Mubarak," which means "Holiday Blessings."
Later on, Muslim families visit each other's homes, and have special meals together. Children are often rewarded with gifts, money, and sweets. Lights and other decorations mark the happy occasion.
Ramadan & the lunar calendar
Ramadan ? the 9th month of the Islamic lunar calendar, during which Muslims fast from dawn to sunset.
Sawm ? Arabic word meaning "fasting."
Suhoor ? the pre-dawn breakfast meal eaten before beginning the daily fast.
Iftar ? the evening meal, taken after sunset to break the daily fast.
Tarawih ? special prayers offered nightly during Ramadan, in which approximately 1/30th of the Quran is recited each night.
Eid al-Fitr ? Festival at the end of Ramadan, in celebration of completing the month of fasting. This takes place on the 1st day of the next month, Shawal.
Muhammad ? a prophet and righteous person believed by Muslims to be the final messenger of God, whose predecessors are believed to include prophets Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and Jesus, among others.
Gabriel ? Muslims believe that among God's many creations are angels. Gabriel is believed to be one of the most important angels, as he was responsible for transmitting God's divine revelations to all of the human prophets, ending with Muhammad.
Arafat - a place where pilgrims travel to as part of the Hajj. There pilgrims offer prayers throughout the day.
Makkah (Mecca) - the sacred city of Muslims, in modern-day Saudi Arabia, where the Kaba is located.
Mina - a place where pilgrims camp, located on the outskirts of Makkah. Muzdalifa - a place where pilgrims stay overnight and pray during the Hajj. Safa and Marwah - two hills near the Kaba.
Allah ? the Arabic name for the One God.
"Eid Mubarak" ? a greeting used by Muslims during the Eid holidays. It means "Holiday Blessings!"
Makkah (Mecca) ? the sacred city of Muslims, in modern-day Saudi Arabia, where the Kaba (house of worship built by Abraham) is located.
Masjid ? Muslim house of worship. (also known as "mosque.")
Monotheism ? belief in One God.
Polytheism ? belief in many gods.
Quran (Koran) ? the holy book of Muslims containing God's revelation to Muhammad.
After reading the information provided, the following discussion questions can be used for a written or oral activity. (Appropriate answers are indicated in parentheses).
1. What is the month of Ramadan? (the Islamic lunar month of fasting)
2. Why is this month important for Muslims? (because it is believed by Muslims to be the month in which the first verses of the Quran were revealed to Prophet Muhammad)
3. What does fasting mean? (to abstain from food and drink during the daylight hours)
4. At what age does fasting become a requirement for Muslims? (puberty)
5. Explain the terms SAWM, SUHOOR, IFTAR. (Sawm = fasting, Suhoor = pre-dawn breakfast meal, Iftar = meal at the end of the daily fast)
6. What are the benefits of fasting? (to feel compassion for the poor and underprivileged, to build a sense of self-control, and to purify the body and the soul)
7. How does fasting enable one to feel compassion for those who are less fortunate and underprivileged?
8. How can fasting help to deal with peer pressure?
9. What marks the end of Ramadan? (Eid al-Fitr holiday)
10. If you were to fast for one day, what would you miss the most? Why? Is it possible to change one's habits by fasting? (Example: eating junk food)
11. How would you have to change your schedule to accommodate fasting? What dietary changes do you think you would have to make? Include the pre-dawn meal of Suhoor in your schedule.
12. How do Muslims finish off the month of Ramadan?
13. After reading, "A Day in the Life of Hasan," what do you think of Hasan's lifestyle, especially during Ramadan?
Suggested student activities:
1. Interview a Muslim who is fasting. Ask him or her how they feel about fasting and how it helps them in their lives.
2. Invite a representative from the local Islamic Center or Masjid (mosque) to speak about the spirit of Ramadan, and have students prepare questions for the visitor. (Teachers may also arrange for students to be part of an Iftar gathering at the Islamic Center or a parent's home.)
3. Plan an Eid party. Explain how you would feel after successfully fasting for one month. What physical changes might one experience? Emotional changes?
4. One of the key lessons to be learned during the month of Ramadan is compassion for those who are underprivileged and have a more difficult time in getting food for themselves.
Pretend you have been fasting for 1 month. Describe your reactions to one of the following and why you would react in this way:
a. A woman and child asking for food and money on a street corner.
b. Homeless people in your own city.
c. Television portrayals of hungry children in far-away lands.
d. An expensive, luxury restaurant that disposes of all unused foods.
This information sheet has been adapted from teacher notes prepared by the Council on Islamic Education, a national, non-profit educational resource organization, dedicated to providing information on Islam and Muslims to public school teachers, textbook publishers, and others involved in the education field.