Rather than feature a country, as we usually try to do each month, today we thought we’d focus on something a little broader, something celebrated by a number of people living in a number of countries all around the world. Ramadan. This holy time of year, celebrated by Muslims around the globe, is a unique and special time that you might not know too much about. It’s a time of fasting, prayer, charity, family and friends. By the time you read this, Ramadan (which has a slightly “flexible” start date on the Muslim calendar) will be just about over. With so many millions of people taking part however, it’s definitely a time worth exploring!

Ramadan takes place in the 9th month of the Muslim calendar year and is considered to be a joyous month, ending with the celebration of Eid Al Fitr. The date itself, as we mentioned above, is flexible, with tradition signalling the beginning of Ramadan to be the date on which the first sighting of the crescent moon appears. During Ramadan, Muslims do not eat during the hours the sun is shining and this fasting, when combined with prayer, is an opportunity for Muslims to express their devotion to Allah. By fasting with intention, called niyyah, a Muslim going without food is better able to put mortal needs behind them and focus instead on the spiritual. This time also serves as a reminder about the sufferings of the poor and is therefore also a month of charity for Muslims – a chance to do good deeds for others. It is a time of personal reflection and spiritual growth as well as a time of sacrifice and renunciation. Because Ramadan is celebrated in many countries, it is also an opportunity for Muslims to feel kinship with other Muslims around the world.

Muslims typically begin participating in Ramadan from the onset of puberty and continue to do so until they are no longer able. Seniors for example, may be excluded if they are frail, or in ill health. Pregnant women or those breastfeeding or menstruating are also excluded, as are travellers. Speaking of travelling, Muslims are required to participate in Hajj, or a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in their lifetime if they are able to. Finally, if a person is unable to participate in the fast, they are expected to provide a meal for the poor for each day the fast is missed.

The end of Ramadan, as noted in our opening paragraph, is a celebration of family and friends called Eid Al Fitr. This should begin, in 2019, on or about the 5th of June. Over the course of three days Muslims gather in prayer, in celebration, they visit the elderly and occasionally exchange small gifts. For many, Eid represents great feasts shared with others after prayer services, lights are hung in celebration and it is a generally considered a  joyous occasion.

If you have a Muslim friend, take the time to ask about this important element of their faith. Fostering and nurturing an understanding between friends, of their various cultural and religious celebrations, helps to form and inform, creating a solid foundation for that friendship. Discover similarities between your beliefs and those of others. Many faiths, such as Catholics for example, also require some element of abstinence during a particular time of year. Catholics abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and every Friday during Lent. So, spend some time in conversation with your friends. Explore the commonalities and discuss your differences. Perhaps you’ll find we are all more similar than different, regardless of our original country of origin and that my friends, is a truly wonderful thing. Whether you are celebrating Ramadan or honoring a friend who is participating, we encourage you to take this time to reflect on the value of friendship. Defined as  “the mutual affection between people” surely you must agree we could all use a friend – or two!

Written by Sheralyn Roman

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