Ramadan is the month-long Muslim fast or more properly the ninth month of the Muslim year in which the fast takes place. According to Islamic custom, every able bodied Muslim is required to fast during the daylight hours or "as long as a white thread can be distinguished from a black one."

Abstinence from dawn to dusk from all food and beverages during the Islamic month of Ramadan is the fourth pillar of the faith required of Muslims. Persons who are ill; women who are pregnant, nursing, or menstruating; soldiers on duty; travelers on necessary journeys; and young children are exempted from the fast. However, adults who are unable to fast during Ramadan are expected to observe a fast later. Ramadan is a period of spiritual renewal, and the daytime fasting is meant to help concentrate a Muslim's thoughts on religious matters. Many mosques, especially in urban areas, sponsor special prayer meetings and study groups during the month. The evening meal that breaks the fast has special religious significance and also is an occasion for sharing among families and friends. Muslims who can afford to do so often host one or more fast-breaking meals for indigents during Ramadan. The month of fasting is followed by a three-day celebration, Seker Bayrami (in Arabic, Id al Fitr), which is observed as a national holiday in most Muslim countries. [Source: Library of Congress]

Ramadan is the most sacred month of the year for Muslims. The Prophet Muhammad reportedly said, "When the month of Ramadan starts, the gates of heaven are opened and the gates of Hell are closed and the devils are chained." Muslims believe it was during this month that God revealed the first verses of the Quran, Islam's sacred text, to Muhammad, on a night known as "The Night of Power" (or Laylat al-Qadr in Arabic). During the entire month of Ramadan, Muslims fast every day from sunrise to sunset. It is meant to be a time of spiritual discipline — of deep contemplation of one's relationship with God, extra prayer, increased charity and generosity, and intense study of the Quran. [Source: Jennifer Williams, Vox, June 7, 2016]

Websites and Resources: Islam Islam.com islam.com ; Islamic City islamicity.com ; Islam 101 islam101.net ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Religious Tolerance religioustolerance.org/islam ; BBC article bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/islam ; Patheos Library – Islam patheos.com/Library/Islam ; University of Southern California Compendium of Muslim Texts web.archive.org ; Encyclopædia Britannica article on Islam britannica.com ; Islam at Project Gutenberg gutenberg.org ; Islam from UCB Libraries GovPubs web.archive.org ; Muslims: PBS Frontline documentary pbs.org frontline ; Discover Islam dislam.org

Qur’an (Quran, Koran) and Hadith:
Quran translation in English alahazrat.net ; Quran in Easy English, Urdu, Arabic and 70 other languages qurango.com ; Quran.com quran.com ; Al-Quran.info al-quran.info ; Quranic Arabic Corpus, shows syntax and morphology for each word corpus.quran.com ; Word for Word English Translation – emuslim.com emuslim.com/Quran ; Digitised Qurans in the Cambridge University Digital Library cudl.lib.cam.ac.uk ; Sunnah.com sunnah.com ;
Hadith – search by keyword and by narrator ahadith.co.uk

Why Ramadan is Important

Al-Nabi Mosque in Qazvin, Iran

Ramadan is a time a sacrifice that leads to renewal and strength and is intended to teach Muslims discipline, subdue their passions, cleanses their spirit and humble them by letting them experience what it is like to be poor. Fasting represents both a submission to God and a willingness to sacrifice oneself for God. By going through the experience together, Muslims are expected to develop a stronger bond with one another and a sense of community. Some religious scholars have suggested that Muhammad had Christian relatives and that the notion of fasting as a form of penitence was picked up from Christian ascetics who lived in the desert.

Ramadan’s fasting, prayer, good deeds, spirituality, and charity are aimed at "purifying the body and mind." It celebrates the month when the first verses of the Quran were said to be revealed to the prophet Muhammad in A.D. 610. Muslims fast during the day to bring themselves closer to God and their fellow man. According to the BBC: “There are several reasons why Ramadan is considered important: 1) The Qur'an was first revealed during this month; 2) The gates of Heaven are open; 3) The gates of Hell are closed and the devils are chained up in Hell. [Source: BBC, July 5, 2011 |::|]

Ramadan is a time when much of the Islamic world spends the month coming together and reflecting. Jennifer Williams wrote in Vox: “Despite the hardship of fasting for a whole month, most Muslims (myself included) actually look forward to Ramadan and are a little sad when it's over. There's just something really special about knowing that tens of millions of your fellow Muslims around the world are experiencing the same hunger pangs, dry mouth, and dizzy spells that you are, and that we're all in it together.”

Ramadan and the Qur’an

Ramadan commemorates the night when Allah revealed the first portion of the Qur’an to the Prophet Muhammad in A.D. 610. Ramadan is often called 'month of the Qur'an' because the Qur'an was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad, and Muslims attempt to recite as much of the Qur'an as they can during the month. Most mosques will recite one thirtieth of the Qur'an each night during the Taraweeh prayers. |::|

first revelation of the Qur'an to Muhammad

“No one knows on which particular night the Qur'an was first revealed, but it is said to be one of the last ten nights of Ramadan. To Muslims the night that the Qur'an was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad is called Lailat ul Qadr, and to stand in prayer on this one night is said to be better than a thousand months of worship. |”The month of Ramadan in which was revealed the Qur'an, a guidance for mankind and clear proofs for the guidance and the criterion (between right and wrong)” — al-Baqarah 2:185

“It was narrated from Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him) that the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: "When Ramadan comes, the gates of Paradise are opened and the gates of Hell are closed, and the devils are put in chains."

Ramadan and Building Good Character

During Ramadan, Muslims are expected to focus on prayer, spirituality and charity and expected to abstain from gossip and cursing. Before the end of the month, Muslims must give charity to the poor

According to the BBC: “Muslims believe that their good actions bring a greater reward during this month than at any other time of year, because this month has been blessed by Allah. They also believe that it is easier to do good in this month because the devils have been chained in Hell, and so can't tempt believers. This doesn't mean that Muslims will not behave badly, but that any evil that they do comes from within themselves, without additional encouragement from Satan. Almost all Muslims try to give up bad habits during Ramadan, and some will try to become better Muslims by praying more or reading the Qur'an. Muslims believe that this is one way that the chaining up of the devils is manifested, since there is no other reason for them to do so. |::| Jennifer Williams wrote in Vox: “Muslims are also supposed to try to curb negative thoughts and emotions like jealousy and anger, and even lesser things like swearing, complaining, and gossiping, during the month. Some people may also choose to give up or limit activities like listening to music and watching television, often in favor of listening to recitations of the Quran.” [Source: Jennifer Williams, Vox, June 7, 2016]

On Internet sites such as IslamOnline, a Cairo-based website created by Yusef Qaradawi, a popular Islamist preacher on the satellite channel al-Jazeera, users ask question about what is allowed and what isn’t. Abu Malih, an expert on Sharia who answer questions with the help of 10 assistants and advise from a network of 100 sheiks and muftis, told AFP, “It is sometimes difficult to answer, but never impossible.” His group has issued fatwas that using nasal sprays and receiving non-nutritive injections was in keeping with the Ramadan fast but smoking was not. His group also said dreams with a sexual content are okay as long as you don’t carry out the acts.

Ramadan Practices

Taraweeh night prayers at the Grand Mosque in Kairouan, Tunisia

Ramadan marked by intense prayer, dawn-to-dusk fasting and good deeds. The faithful spend the month of Ramadan in mosques for evening prayers known as "taraweeh", while free time during the day is often spent reading the Quran and listening to religious lectures.

According to the BBC: “There are a number of special practices which are only done during Ramadan. Fasting the whole month long Although Muslims fast during other times of the year, Ramadan is the only time when fasting, or sawm, is obligatory during the entire month for every able Muslim. Ramadan is intended to increase self-control in all areas, including food, sleeping, sex and the use of time. [Source: BBC, July 5, 2011 |::|]

“Taraweeh Prayers: These are long night prayers, which are not obligatory, but highly recommended. Mosques are filled with worshippers who go to attend these prayers, which usually last for one and a half to two hours. These prayers also give Muslims a chance to meet at the mosque every day, and so they also help to improve relationships in the Muslim community. |::|

“I'tikaf: I'tikaf refers to going into seclusion during the last ten nights of Ramadan, in order to seek Lailat ul Qadr by praying and reading the Qur'an. Some people live in the mosque during this time for serious reflection and worship. Others spend a few hours at the mosque or home.

Typical Day for a Muslim During Ramadan

Jennifer Williams wrote in Vox: “During Ramadan, Muslims wake up well before dawn to eat the first meal of the day, which has to last until sunset. This means eating lots of high-protein foods and drinking as much water as possible right up until dawn, after which you can't eat or drink anything. At dawn, we perform the morning prayer. Since it's usually still pretty early, many go back to sleep for a bit before waking up again to get ready for the day (I certainly do). [Source: Jennifer Williams, Vox, June 7, 2016 ^/^]

airport Ramadan tent

“Muslims are not supposed to avoid work or school or any other normal duties during the day just because we are fasting. In many Muslim countries, however, businesses and schools may reduce their hours during the day or close entirely. For the most part, though, Muslims go about their daily business as we normally would, despite not being able to eat or drink anything the whole day. ^/^

“When the evening call to prayer is finally made (or when the alarm on your phone's Muslim prayer app goes off), we break the day's fast with a light meal — really more of a snack — called an iftar (literally "breakfast"), before performing the evening prayer. Many also go to the mosque for the evening prayer, followed by a special prayer that is only recited during Ramadan. This is usually followed by a larger meal a bit later in the evening, which is often shared with family and friends in one another's homes throughout the month. Then it's off to bed for a few hours of sleep before it's time to wake up and start all over again. ^/^

“There are good reasons for only having a small snack to break your fast before performing the evening prayer and then eating a bigger meal later. Muslim prayers involve a lot of movement — bending over, prostrating on the ground, standing up, etc. Doing all that physical activity on a full stomach after not having eaten for 15 hours is a recipe for disaster. Just trust me on this one.” ^/^

Differences In How Sunnis and Shia Observe Ramadan

For the most part, Sunni and Shia Muslims observe Ramadan in a similar fashion. Jennifer Williams wrote in Vox: “Both Sunni and Shia Muslims fast during Ramadan. But there are some minor differences — for instance, Sunnis break their daily fast at sunset, when the sun is no longer visible on the horizon (but there's still light in the sky), whereas Shia wait until the redness of the setting sun has completely vanished and the sky is totally dark. [Source: Jennifer Williams, Vox, June 7, 2016 ^/^]

Gargee'an in Ahwaz, Iran

“Shia also celebrate an additional holiday within the month of Ramadan that Sunnis do not. For three days — the 19th, 20th, and 21st days of Ramadan — Shia commemorate the martyrdom of Ali ibn Abi Talib, the cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad who was both the revered fourth caliph of Sunni Islam and the first "legitimate" imam (leader) of Shia Islam.^/^

“Ali was assassinated in the fierce civil wars that erupted following the death of Muhammad over who should lead the Muslim community in his stead. On the 19th day of the month of Ramadan, while Ali was worshipping at a mosque in Kufa, Iraq, an assassin from a group of rebels who opposed his leadership fatally struck him with a poisoned sword. Ali died two days later. ^/^

“Ali is a hugely important figure in Shia Islam. His tomb in nearby Najaf, Iraq, is the third-holiest site in Shia Islam, and millions of Shia make pilgrimage there every year. Although Sunnis revere Ali as one of the four "rightly guided" caliphs who ruled after Muhammad's death, they do not commemorate his death or make pilgrimage to his tomb.” ^/^

Ramadan in the Middle East

In 2008, Associated Press reported: “This year's Muslim holy month comes at a time of high food prices region-wide — a burden for low-income people struggling to afford the special foods traditionally prepared for the meal that breaks the fast at each sunset. High food prices also complicate the usual practice of buying new clothes and other Ramadan treats. Hot weather also will likely create extra challenges this year for observers who go without food or water during daylight hours. [Source: Associated Press, September 1, 2008 /^]

“In Shia Iran, 100 groups sent to different parts of the country on the order of Iran's top leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, did not detect the moon Sunday night, said state-run TV. It said Ramadan would start Tuesday in Iran. In Iraq, Shia will also begin observing the month on Tuesday, but Sunnis started on Monday, and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki called on Iraq to "maintain peace and security" during Ramadan. Lebanon's Sunnis and some Shia did start Ramadan on Monday, but the Iranian-backed militant Hezbollah group and its supporters are to begin fasting Tuesday. There have been proposals by Muslim scholars from both major sects to have a Sunni-Shia committee work together to agree on the sighting of the Ramadan moon, but such efforts have failed in the past. /^\

20120509-Hurghada_main_street_of_the_bazaar_Ramadan Egypt 2004.jpg
Quiet daytime main street in Hurghada, Egypt
during Ramadan
“In a gesture of goodwill ahead of the holy month, Egypt opened its sealed border crossing with Gaza over the weekend, allowing hundreds of Palestinians to leave the coastal territory for medical treatment in Egypt and other reasons, officials said. In Gaza itself, Palestinians are marking the holy month under the strain of an Israeli blockade that has lasted more than a year, since Hamas militants seized control of the territory. More goods have been entering Gaza since a June cease-fire went into effect, but a shortage of cooking gas has forced dozens of bakeries to cut back on the number of traditional Ramadan pastries they produce. /^\

“In Ramallah in the West Bank, the atmosphere Monday was a little more upbeat than last year. Many homes were decorated with colored lights in the shape of crescents — the symbol of Islam. To cash in on the season's traditional soap opera television specials, shops offered a Ramadan special — a 50% discount on TV satellite dishes. In Jordan, police distributed small booklets to motorists, urging traffic safety. Traffic accidents — a problem across the region during Ramadan — increase by an average of 70% during the fasting month in Jordan. In Dubai, newspapers published special editions with ads for Ramadan sales in the city-state's giant shopping malls and lavish meals at its luxury hotels.” /^\

Ramadan in Asia

As Ramadan began in 2012, Niniek Karmini of Associated Press wrote: “Muslims have begun fasting for the start of the Ramadan holy month in Indonesia, Malaysia and elsewhere around Asia, but the somber occasion was marred in Buddhist-dominated Thailand by two bomb blasts that killed one person and injured seven. The Muhammadiyah group, Indonesia's second-largest Muslim organization, told its 30 million followers that Ramadan starts Friday. The government, however, declared the official start as Saturday, when most of the remaining 190 million Indonesians began the dawn-to-dusk fast. Muslims in Thailand also began Ramadan on Friday, while Malaysians began Saturday. India, Pakistan and Bangladesh were to start Saturday or Sunday. [Source: Niniek Karmini, Associated Press, July 20, 2012 ***]

Ramadan's start varies because Muslim countries and groups use different ways of calculating when the new moon crescent is sighted. which uses calendar-based astronomical calculations, believed that the crescent should have appeared after sunset on Thursday. But the government argued it could not be seen by eyes or telescopes, hence Ramadan has to start Saturday. ***

drum calling people to Friday prayers in Indonesia

“In Malaysia, where nearly two-thirds of the population is Muslim, people began observing the holy month by heading to mosques Friday night on the eve of Ramadan's start, with special Quran-reading and prayer sessions to proceed nightly throughout the month. The start of Ramadan is often quiet in Malaysia, with excitement peaking in the final week, when people buy new clothes, food and other supplies to celebrate the end of the holy month. Many hotels in Kuala Lumpur have begun advertising promotional dinners featuring roast lamb, savory curries and sumptuous cakes for more affluent Muslims to break their fast, while in numerous neighborhoods, entrepreneurs will set up evening stalls for customers to purchase cooked rice, meat and vegetables to bring home for their families. ***

“Homemaker Karina Hassan said this Ramadan might be significant for her family because her 8-year-old daughter could try fasting for the first time. "She might try to fast for half a day at first," Karina said. "She's always hungry 24 hours a day, so fasting could be tough for her." Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak urged his country's Muslims to set aside their political differences during Ramadan and foster unity among believers. Political rhetoric and mudslinging has intensified in Malaysia over the past year ahead of national elections that must be held before mid-2013. ***

In Brunei, an air force helicopter crashed late Friday, killing at least 10 people, mostly military cadets being flown home after training. The sultanate's Borneo Bulletin newspaper called it "a national tragedy" that struck a day before the country's Muslim majority marked the start of Ramadan. ***

“Pakistan's government has promised there will not be any power blackouts during the key hours when people are preparing for their fast or during the evening when they pray and break their fasts. "If there is electricity or no electricity, people do fast, and they fast with patience," said Shah Muhammad, who sells nuts in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad. "Allah gives you patience." In Bangladesh too, Ramadan is likely to start Saturday. However, a national moon sighting committee headed by state minister for religious affairs was to sit Friday evening to make an official declaration. Parts of India, where about 13 percent of the 1.2 billion people are Muslim, started Saturday, including New Delhi and the Indian portion of Kashmir.” ***

Ramadan and the New Moon

Ramadan is the ninth month on the Muslim calendar. The fast officially start the first day after the sighting of a crescent moon, marking the beginning of a new lunar month. Shiites and Sunni sometimes disagree over the starting time for Ramadan. It is not unusual for the fast to begin two days later for Shiites.

In the Qur’an, Muhammad said: "Do not fast until you see the new moon, and do not break the fast until you see it; but when it is hidden from you [by clouds or mist] give it its full measure." This means that the fast of Ramadan might begin a day later in town with cloudy weather than one where skies are clear. There is also a stipulation that a "sane person" has to spot the moon.

For many Ramadan starts when the new moon is seen in Mecca. The new moon is usually sighted there on the first day of the lunar month because the weather is generally not cloudy in Saudi Arabia. When it isn't, the new moon is usually sighted the next day and the Ramadan and and the feast that follows began a day later. In 2004, for example, a new moon was not spotted in Saudi Arabia and many other places in the Middle East and the start of Ramadan was delayed one day.

A cannon is often fired each day to announce the rising or setting sun. Sometimes its also fired two hours before sunset to give people time to prepare the evening meal.

Moon Sighting the Start of Ramadan

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. As with all months in the Islamic calendar, it commences on the sighting of the new moon. Some countries use astronomical calculations and observatories, while others rely on the naked eye alone, leading sometimes to different starting times. There can be confusion and disagreement over the starting date of Ramadan and Muslims often start and end Ramadan on slightly different days.

In 2016, religious authorities in most Middle Eastern countries announced the new moon of Ramadan was spotted on Sunday evening. The official sighting was announced in Saudi Arabia. Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country, said Muslims there would begin fasting on Monday, as did Muslims in Singapore, Yemen, Lebanon, Syria, Qatar, Kuwait, Jordan, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Afghanistan and the Palestinian territories, among others. Iran and Pakistan announced their moon sightings independently and the fast began there at different times. [Source: Al Jazeera, June 6, 2016]

crescent moon

On the sighting in 2017, Al Jazeera reported: “Saudi Arabia's High Judicial Court has announced that, based on confirmed sightings of Ramadan's new moon crescent, the first day of Ramadan 1438 fasting will be Saturday, May 27. Saturday was confirmed the first day of Ramadan in 33 other countries also, whereas Bangladesh, Pakistan, India and Shia Muslims in Iraq declared Sunday May 28 to be their first day of Ramadan. Turkey and Muslim communities in America, Europe and Australia previously announced they would observe Ramadan fasting from May 27, based on astronomic calculations. [Source:Al Jazeera, May 27, 2017]

According to the BBC: “Sighting in each country: “Some Muslims believe that a new moon sighting from their individual country marks the start of Ramadan. One argument for accepting this is that Islam is regarded as a way of life for all people. Choosing a local sighting includes those who do not have access to technology or fast communication. It's argued that unity within a known geographic location is more important than celebrating Ramadan with people who live in another country or continent. |::|

“Sighting in Saudi Arabia: Other Muslims believe that the sighting of the new moon from Saudi Arabia marks the beginning of Ramadan. They believe this unifies all Muslims, as well as carrying on the tradition of the Prophet Muhammad. |::|

“Technology: Some Muslims believe that technology should be used to mark the true date. In 2006, the Fiqh Council of North America decided they will no longer use naked eye sightings of the moon, but will use astronomical calculations instead to determine the start of Ramadan. Not all Muslims agree with this approach. |::|

"Ramadan Mubarak" and "Ramadan Kareem" are common greetings exchanged in this occasion, wishing the recipient a blessed and generous Ramadan. Some Muslims — often children under their parents supervision — look at theodolites — precision instruments for measuring angles in the horizontal and vertical planes used mainly for surveying — to determine the sighting of the new moon to mark the start of Ramadan.

Confusion Over When Ramadan Starts

According to the BBC: “ Since the month is full of blessings and marks the beginning of fasting, or sawm, accuracy is very important. Since Muslims live all over the world, but Islam started in what is now known as Saudi Arabia, they may not agree as to which country’s first moon sighting marks the start of the month. |::|

Jennifer Williams wrote in Vox: “The beginning of each new month in the Islamic calendar starts on the new moon. Which means the month of Ramadan starts on the new moon. Simple enough, right? Wrong. Back in Muhammad's day, in sixth-century Arabia, astronomical calculations weren't as precise as they are today, so people went by what they could see with the naked eye. [Source: Jennifer Williams, Vox, June 7, 2016 ^/^]

“Since the new moon isn't actually super visible in the night sky. Muslims traditionally waited to start fasting until the small sliver of crescent moon became visible. There's even a saying attributed to the Prophet Muhammad about waiting to start the fast until you see the crescent. (Some people think this is why the star and crescent is the symbol of Islam, but the crescent was used as a symbol long before Islam.) ^/^

dates for the first day of Ramadan from 1938 to 2037

“This method was a bit messy, though, since things like clouds or just the difficulty of spotting the moon in some locations often led to different groups starting their fast on separate days, even within the same country. Each community, village, or even mosque within the village might send its own guy out to look for the crescent, with rival groups arguing over whether the other guy really saw it or not. Today, however, we have precise scientific calculations that tell us exactly when the new moon begins, and we don't need to wait until someone spots a tiny crescent in the sky. (In fact, according to the Oxford Dictionary of Islam, "The need to determine the precise appearance of the hilal [crescent moon] was one of the inducements for Muslim scholars to study astronomy.") ^/^

“So, problem solved! Except that some Muslim scholars believe we should still wait until the slight crescent moon is visible in the night sky, because that's what Muhammad said to do and that's the way we've always done it. Others argue that Islam has a strong tradition of reason, knowledge, and science, and that if Muhammad were around today he'd choose the more precise scientific calculations over sending the guy at the mosque with the best eyesight outside to squint at the night sky. ^/^

“To make things even more fun, some argue that the whole world should just follow the official moon-sighting decrees of Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam and the location of its holiest sites. But not everyone thinks that's such a swell idea — especially rival countries like Pakistan and Iran, which balk at the idea of treating Saudi Arabia as the ultimate authority on anything having to do with Islam. All this means that each year Muslims around the world get to experience the delightful lunacy of "moon-sighting fighting." Indeed, it's such a familiar feature of Ramadan that there are memes about it: Yes, Muslims use this meme too. There's really no escaping it.”

World's Biggest Clock Launches 2010 Ramadan in Mecca

giant Mecca clock

In August 2010, the world's biggest clock began ticking in Mecca at the start of the fasting month of Ramadan, amid hopes by Saudi Arabia it will become the Muslim world’s official timekeeper. Asma Alsharif of Reuters wrote: “The Mecca Clock, which Riyadh says is the world’s largest, has four faces measuring 43 meters in diameter. It sits 400 meters up what will be the world’s second-tallest skyscraper and largest hotel, overlooking the city’s Holy Grand Mosque, which Muslims around the world turn to five times a day for prayer. “The Holy Mecca Clock started with the order of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud ... one minute after 12 a.m. this morning, the first day of the holy month of Ramadan,” Saudi state news agency SPA said. [Source: Asma Alsharif, Reuters, August 12, 2010 -]

“Over 90 million pieces of colored glass mosaic embellish the sides of the clock, which has four faces each bearing a large inscription of the name “Allah.” It is visible from all corners of the city, the state news agency said. The clock tower is the landmark feature of the seven-tower King Abdulaziz Endowment hotel complex, being built by the private Saudi Binladen Group, which will have the largest floor area of any building in the world when it is complete. Local media have said the clock tower project cost $3 billion. -

“The clock is positioned on a 601-meter tower, which will become the second tallest inhabited building in the world when it is completed in three months’ time. “Because it based in front of the holy mosque the whole Islamic world will refer to Mecca time instead of Greenwich. The Mecca clock will become a symbol to all Muslims,” said Hashim Adnan, a resident of nearby Jeddah who frequently visits Mecca. -

The project is part of efforts to modernize the old city and make it more capable of catering to pilgrims.While many in Saudi Arabia are celebrating the clock tower’s launch, some Mecca visitors are critical of how it will affect the ambiance of the Prophet Muhammad’s birthplace. The complex is built on the land once occupied by an Ottoman fortress. “I think they are trying to do a lot of luxurious development around the Grand Mosque which is taking away from the spiritual atmosphere of the place, making it more modern,” said Lina Edris, a frequent visitor to Mecca. “The clock tower is higher than the minarets of the Grand Mosque, which will take attention away from the mosque even though it is obvious the mosque is more important,” she added.” -

Seasonal Timing of Ramadan

Jennifer Williams wrote in Vox: “ For religious matters, Muslims follow a lunar calendar — that is, one based on the phases of the moon — whose 12 months add up to approximately 354 days. That's 11 days shorter than the 365 days of the standard Gregorian calendar. Therefore, the Islamic lunar calendar moves backward approximately 11 days each year in relation to the regular Gregorian calendar. So that means that the first day of the month of Ramadan, which is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, moves backward by about 11 days each year. [Source: Jennifer Williams, Vox, June 7, 2016 ^/^]

Durba, a Ramadan festival in Nigeria

“This has a large impact on how people experience Ramadan from year to year. When Ramadan falls in the winter, it's much easier to fast: the days are shorter, which means you don't have to fast as long, and it's colder out, so not being able to drink water all day isn't as big of a deal, because you're not sweating as much. Conversely, when Ramadan falls in the summer (as it has every year since I converted, because of course), fasting can be brutal. In many Muslim countries in the Middle East and Africa, summer temperatures can reach levels usually reserved for the deepest bowels of hell. ^/^

“And in some northern European countries such as Iceland, Norway, and Sweden (where, yes, there are Muslims), fasting can last an average of 20 hours or more in the summer. (And in a few places above the Arctic Circle, the sun never actually sets in the summer. In these cases, Muslim religious authorities have decreed that Muslims can either fast along with the closest Muslim country or fast along with Mecca, Saudi Arabia.)” ^/^

Ramadan in the Land of Midnight Sun

Reporting from northern Sweden in 2014, Cajsa Wikstrom wrote: “An estimated 700 Muslims are spending Ramadan in the mining town of Kiruna, located 145km north of the Arctic Circle and surrounded by snowcapped mountains throughout the summer. Many of them are recent asylum seekers, sent to Kiruna while their claims are processed. The sun stays up around the clock from May 28-July 16, which constitutes half of the fasting period this year. "I started Ramadan by having suhoor with the sun shining in my eyes at 3:30 in the morning," said Ghassan Alankar from Syria, referring to the meal just before dawn. "I put double curtains in my room and still, there's light when I'm going to sleep." [Source: Cajsa Wikstrom, July 7, 2014 ++]

“Since there is no central authority in Sunni Islam that could issue a definite religious ruling, or fatwa, Muslims in the north are using at least four different timetables to break the fast. Alankar sticks to Mecca time, Saudi Arabia, "because it's the birthplace of Islam". But he is worried about whether his fast will be accepted by God. "I'm not sure I'm doing the right thing," said Alankar, who arrived in Kiruna seven months ago after a hazardous journey via Lebanon, Turkey, and Greece. "Only when I'm in God's house, if I make it to heaven, I will know." ++

midnight sun in Sweden

“A majority of those who fast in Kiruna follow the timings of the capital Stockholm, 1,240km further south, after being advised by the European Council of Fatwa and Research (ECFR), a Dublin-based private foundation composed of Islamic clerics. "In Stockholm, there's day and night," Hussein Halawa, secretary-general of the council, told Al Jazeera, explaining the decision. He was personally invited to northern Sweden from Dublin this year to experience the lengthy daylight and give advice. Idris Abdulwhab, from Eritrea, follows the ECFR fatwa, which means his longest period of fasting will be 20 hours. "Zero, 15, 25 or 45 hours, it doesn't matter as long as you believe in what you're doing," he said. "But we're human beings; of course it's hard sometimes."” ++

In 2015, AFP reported: “Muslims in the Nordic region can expect new guidelines for coping with a sun that never sets ahead of the holy fasting month of Ramadan, a Swedish Muslim association said. Ramadan begins on June 18 this year — three days before the longest day of the year — when the sun blazes around the clock above the Arctic Circle and only sets for a few hours further south, presenting a problem for Muslims who are meant to fast until sunset. "We've got two difficult questions, not just when you can break the fast in the north but also when you should start fasting," Muhammad Kharraki, a spokesman for Sweden's Islamic Association, told AFP. "You're supposed to start fasting before the sun rises, at dawn. But there is no real dawn in the summer months in Stockholm." [Source: AFP, June 10, 2015]

In previous years Muslims in sub-Arctic towns like Kiruna were advised to break their fast at the same time as people in the south but a meeting of Swedish and European imams in northern Sweden this week recommended a new approach. "Now you should go by the last time the sun clearly set and rose," said Kharraki, adding that detailed guidelines were still being worked out and could also involve breaking the fast in the early evening to be more in line with the rest of the world.

The new rules being drawn up by a pan-European association — the European Council for Fatwa and Research — are expected to apply across the continent and will include advice on situations where Muslims can break the fast to avoid collapsing from lack of food and water. "People can try to fast for 19 hours but not handle it. That's not the idea... If you don't manage to do your work or stay on your feet, then it's time to break the fast," said Kharraki.

Image Sources: Wikimedia, Commons

Text Sources: Internet Islamic History Sourcebook: sourcebooks.fordham.edu “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “ Arab News, Jeddah; “Islam, a Short History” by Karen Armstrong; “A History of the Arab Peoples” by Albert Hourani (Faber and Faber, 1991); “Encyclopedia of the World Cultures” edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1994). “Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, BBC, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, The Guardian, BBC, Al Jazeera, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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