See how almost a quarter of humanity ushered in Ramadan, their holiest month
Ramadan, the holiest month in the Islamic calendar, began this weekend for the 1.8 billion Muslims around the world. From sun-up to sundown, the physically able among them will fast — abstaining not just from food but also so much as a sip of water.
"[The pandemic] has touched home in many, many ways," Makram Nu'man El-Amin, an imam in Minneapolis, told NPR on Saturday.
"So just the idea of being able to come back together during this special month — the month of fasting, the month of reflection, the month of, you know, self-development and all of it, the month of being charitable, etc — all the things that we love to do, desire to do, we'll be able to do, at least in a greater measure than we have been over the past couple of years. So I'm just excited. And I'm so grateful for this moment."
While it's easy to think of Ramadan as a holiday, it's not. Muslims go to work and school and carry on with their everyday life.
In that respect, the true purpose of the month is discipline and dedication. The fast extends to more than food. Muslims are expected to practice how to avoid impure thoughts and deeds.
Ramadan provides a constant physical reminder of God, as well as a reminder of all the people in the world who don't have enough food or water. "It creates an impetus of both gratitude and charity," said Adeel Zeb — Muslim chaplain at The Claremont Colleges — in an interview with NPR in 2017 .
The month is centered on charity, worship, and developing empathy and connection to others. But there is also a strong communal aspect that's an essential part of the experience.
However, for the last two years as a pandemic raged, the coronavirus did away with many of those rituals. Gone were the big group dinners, the visits to the mosques, the early-morning runs to IHOP for pancakes before fasting begins — along with so many other beloved aspects of the month.
This year, many Muslims plan to resume the nightly gatherings, Iftar, where they can break their day-long fast together. Many are also looking forward to the communal tarawih prayers that follow the fast-breaking.
That's welcome news for adherents like Rizwan Ali.
"The worst part is just missing people, honestly," Ali, the imam of the Islamic Center of Naperville, Illinois, told NPR in 2020. "I was saying that, you know, after I was preparing for the prayers, I was making wudu [cleansing the body before prayers] in my house. And I was, like, you know, I never thought that I would miss the long lines in the mosque to make wudu and to prepare for the prayer. Well, those are the little things that you miss - the smiles, the faces. I can close my eyes and tell you where each person is sitting. And I'm missing all of those little experiences now."
Ramadan is a month that Muslims believe God revealed the Quran, Islam's holy text, to the Prophet Muhammad. It officially begins at the first sighting of the waxing crescent after the new moon, leading to different countries declaring its start a day or two apart. For most countries this year, it began Friday evening.
The month ends with Eid al-Fitr — a three-day celebration, a time to eat and drink and rejoice after a month of fasting and long nights of worship.
Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.