Ramadan or Ramadhan is the holiest month in Islam. The month of Ramadan is when it is believed the Holy Quran “was sent down from heaven, a guidance unto men, a declaration of direction, and a means of Salvation”.
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. Islam uses a lunar calendar – that means, each month begins with the sighting of the New Moon. Because the Lunar calendar is some days shorter than the Solar calendar used elsewhere, Islamic holidays move each year.
This year, Ramadan starts today, September 13th, in Spain that is. But it is more complicated than it appears. Since the moon does not have the same constellation everywhere at the same time, Ramadan gets observed with slight variations, depending upon the country and region.
The Astronomical New Moon is on Tuesday, September 11th, 2007 at 12h44 Universal Time (i. e., 12h44 GMT, 08h44 EDT, and 05h44 PDT). But the new moon is almost impossible to be seen anywhere on September 11th. On September 12th, the moon will be visible in Australia, South Africa, South America, and North America. Hence, the first day of Ramadan (fasting) in Spain is determined to be September 13th. Where and when exactly, is ascertained by the local Imam, the religious leader.
In Mallorca, where I live, Ramadan has always been celebrated at dates according to the country of the Muslim immigrant’s origins, be he or she from Moroccco, Algeria, Mauritania, Western Sahara, Sudan, Mali or wherever. But last year, for the first time, it was agreed that all Mallorcan Muslim residents would celebrate at a uniform date, set by the New Moon in Spain, irrespective of their geographic origins.
And this year, if you happened to follow the Prophet’s ways, the dates in Spain are for one lunar month from the New Moon on September 13th.
According to some of my sources there are 18,500 residents of the Muslim faith in Mallorca alone, whilst other sources claim that number to be over 25,000. If these figures are those of official residents only, one might as well double those numbers for people of Islamic belief actually living on this island. No wonder there are so many Halal butchers in our villages now.
There are two major mosques in Mallorca, in Palma and in Inca, with smaller ones in most villages, normally unnoticed by people like us. But recently it was announced that a new large mosque will be built in Marratxi.
Ramadan is the time when Muslims concentrate on their faith and spend less time on the concerns of their everyday lives. It is a time of contemplation and worship. This year then, every Muslim in the Balearics can fast during the same days. The ‘Fast of Ramadan’ lasts the entire lunar month. The next New Moon in Spain will be on October 12th. The last day of fasting will be October 11th.
During the ‘Fast of Ramadan’ strict restraints are placed on the daily lives of Muslims. One is not allowed food, water, and most importantly, coffee, tea, or cigarettes from dawn to dusk. Sexual relations are also forbidden during fasting. At the end of the day the fast is broken with prayer and a meal called the ‘iftar’. After the ‘iftar’ meal it is customary for Muslims to go out, visiting family and friends. The fast is resumed the next morning.
According to the Holy Quran, one may eat and drink at any time during the night “until you can plainly distinguish a white thread from a black thread by the daylight – then keep the fast until night”.
The good that is acquired through the fast can be destroyed by five things: the telling of a lie, slander, denouncing someone behind his back, a false oath, greed or covetousness. These are considered offensive at all times, but are most offensive during the ‘Fast of Ramadan’.
During Ramadan, it is common for Muslims to go to the Masjid (Mosque) and spend several hours praying and studying the Quran. In addition to the usual five daily prayers, during Ramadan, Muslims recite an additional special prayer called the Taraweeh (Night Prayer). The length of this prayer is usually 2 – 3 times as long as the regular daily prayers. Some Muslims spend the night in prayer.
On the evening of the 27th day of Ramadan, Muslims celebrate the Laylat-al-Qadr (the Night of Power). It is believed that on this night, Muhammad first received the revelation of the Holy Quran.
When the fast ends (the first day of the month of Shawwal) it is celebrated with a three day holiday called Id-al-Fitr (the ‘Feast of Fast Breaking’). Then, gifts are exchanged. Friends and family gather to pray together, and for large meals. In some towns fairs will be held to celebrate the end of the ‘Fast of Ramadan’.
For all of my Jewish readers: Shaná Tová. A Happy New Year to you. The Jewish Rosh Hashana (New Year) began yesterday. The year 5678 has started.