The Muslim holy month of Ramadan is due to begin around 1st September and end around 1st October 2008. These dates are confirmed by the “Mufti” (the State Religious Advisor, appointed by the government) according to the cycle of the moon.
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. Islam uses a lunar calendar where each month begins with the sighting of the new moon. Because the lunar calendar is about 11 days shorter than the solar calendar used elsewhere, Islamic holidays "move" each year, which is why the observation of the Moon by the Mufti is considered to be an important and essential event.
For more than a billion Muslims around the world, Ramadan is a "month of blessing" marked by prayer, fasting, and charity.
Fasting is one of the Five Pillars (duties) of Islam and Muslims practice “Sawm” or fasting for the entire month of Ramadan. As with other Islamic duties, all able Muslims take part in “Sawm” from about age twelve.
The Holy Quran states that 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.”
Fasting serves many purposes. While hungry and thirsty, Muslims are reminded of the suffering of the poor. Fasting is also an opportunity to practice self-control and to cleanse the body and mind, and in this most sacred month, fasting helps Muslims feel the peace that comes from spiritual devotion as well as kinship with fellow believers.
The good that is acquired through the fast can be destroyed by five things:
• The telling of a lie
• Denouncing someone behind their 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 in the Muslim world, most restaurants are closed during the daylight hours. Families get up early for “Suhoor” (late dinner) a meal eaten before the sun rises. After the sun sets, the fast is broken with a meal known as “Iftar” (breakfast). Iftar usually begins with dates and sweet drinks that provide a quick energy boost.
It is common for Muslims to go to the Masjid (Mosque) during Ramadan and spend several hours praying and studying the Quran. In addition to the five daily prayers, during Ramadan Muslims recite a special prayer called the Taraweeh prayer (Night Prayer). The length of this prayer is usually 2-3 times as long as the daily prayers. Some Muslims spend the entire night in prayer. On the evening of the 27th day of the month, 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. And according to the Quran, this is when God determines the course of the world for the following year.
When the fast ends (the first day of the month of Shawwal) it is celebrated for three days in a holiday called Id-al-Fitr (the Feast of Fast Breaking). Gifts are exchanged, friends and family gather to pray and enjoy large meals. In some cities fairs are held to celebrate the end of the Fast of Ramadan.
In Egypt’s big cities like Cairo and Alexandria the night time in Ramadan is a really festive atmosphere. Most of the big hotels and Social and Sports clubs set an oriental tent where Shisha, food and drinks (no alcohol of course) are served all night with live music and some traditional dancing. These parties and celebrations go on until sunrise. During the weekends (Thursday/Friday nights) these tents get really busy.
Don’t be shocked when you see big tables in the streets and near the mosques with huge amounts of food served for “El Iftar” and “Al Suhoor”. This is called “Maadet El Rahman” and it’s for free, as the mosques and the rich Muslims prepare them for poor Muslims that cannot afford a decent meal whilst in Ramadan. It is something that creates a nice friendly atmosphere among different levels during such a Holy month.
Ramadan ends with the festival of Eid al-Fitr, literally the "Festival of Breaking the Fast".
Eid al-Fitr is one of the two most important Islamic celebrations (the other occurs after the Hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca). At Eid al-Fitr people dress in their finest clothes, adorn their homes with lights and decorations, give treats to children and enjoy visits with friends and family.
A sense of generosity and gratitude colours these festivities. Although charity and good deeds are always important in Islam, they have special significance at the end of Ramadan. As the month draws to a close, Muslims are obligated to share their blessings by feeding the poor and making contributions to mosques.
Visiting the relevant countries during Ramadan, provides an utterly enchanting atmosphere where you will experience the generosity and kind spirit of the people, enjoy the evening festivities and learn a great deal more of their fascinating cultures.
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