The 1.2 billion Muslims around the world, including the estimated eight million Muslims in America, and those at Georgetown began the month-long fast of Ramadan on Nov 6. During Ramadan, uslims abstain from food, drink and other sensual pleasures from the break of dawn to sunset. Fasting (along with the declaration of faith, daily prayers, charity and pilgrimage to Mecca) is one of the “five pillars” of Islam.

Fasting is compulsory for those who are mentally and physically fit, past the age of puberty and are confident that fasting is unlikely to cause real physical or mental injury. Some are not required to fast but could choose to fast (i.e. children, people who are mentally incapacitated and those who are too old to fast, as well as travelers who are on journeys of more than about 50 miles, pregnant women and nursing mothers.)

Special prayers, called taraweeh, are performed after the daily nighttime prayer. More prayers are offered on the 27th night of Ramadan, Lailat ul-Qadr (Night of Power) becuase it marks the anniversary of the night on which, Muslims believe, the Prophet uhammad first began receiving revelations from God through the angel Gabriel.

The month lasts for 29 or 30 days. The festival of Fast-Breaking is called Eid ul-Fitr. On this day, very special morning prayers are held where Muslims are recommended to assemble in a community. Eid lasts for three days and is seen as a time for relaxation. During Eid, Muslims greet each other with the phrase “Eid ubarak” meaning “Blessed Eid.”

Muslims believe that fasting is performed to learn discipline, self-restraint and generosity while obeying God’s commandments. An increased compassion for those in need of life’s necessities, a sense of self-purification, reflection and a renewed focus on spirituality are also sought. Muslims also appreciate the feeling of togetherness shared by families and friends throughout the month. Perhaps the greatest practical benefit is the yearly lesson of discipline that can carry Muslims forward in other aspects of their lives. In Ramadan, Muslims learn how to be in this world, neither of it nor owned by it. Ramadan teaches fasting Muslims how to better make peace in their lives and in the lives of others they come across. This message of peace is expected to continue throughout their entire lives.

Fasting in America can be easier than fasting in areas where the climate is extremely hot. This year at least, the number of daylight hours will be less than when Ramadan occurs during the spring or summer. In Muslim countries, most people observe the fast, causing fewer temptations such as luncheon meetings, daytime celebrations or offers of food from friends.

Many American Muslims would prefer a daytime work shift during Ramadan so that they may break the fast with their families and attend evening prayers with the rest of the family members and the community. Therefore, co-workers and employers are encouraged to make minor allowances and requests for leave time as work schedules permit. Some students may ask to be allowed at sunset time to attend the daily break of the fast meal. It is also very important that Muslim faculty, staff and students be given time to attend Eid prayers at the end of Ramadan. Eid is as important to Muslims as Christmas and Yom Kippur are to Christians and Jews. A small token such as a card (Eid cards are available from Muslim bookstores) or baked goods given to a Muslim co-worker or a classmate during Eid ul-Fitr would also be greatly appreciated.

Hospital workers should be aware that oral medications break the fast. Patients should be given the opportunity to decide in consultation with their physicians whether or not their medical condition may exempt them from fasting.

Georgetown’s Office of Campus Ministry, along with its uslim chaplain and the Muslim Students Association, has been planning for a full schedule of prayerful programs for the university’s Muslim staff, faculty and students to which all are welcome. Campus Ministry and the MSA will also help in providing daily meals for the breaking of the fast.

Ramadan Mubarak to all.

Imam Yahya Hendi is the Muslim Chaplain in the Office of Campus inistry.

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