During the month of September, 1.5 billion Muslims all over the world are observing the Holy month of Ramadan. “Ramadan” is the name of the ninth month on the Islamic calendar, believed to be the month in which the Qur’an (the Islamic Holy book) was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad.
So what do practicing Muslims do during this month? They “fast” from sunrise till sunset. This means no food and no drink! Ramadan is also believed to be a time for Muslims to practice self-reformation, kindness, and good deeds such as alms-giving or helping others.
When you ask Muslims the reason behind these practices, many may tell you that fasting teaches the observer compassion for those who are needy. Others may tell you it teaches the observers to practice restraint from worldly temptations.
Due to the difficult nature of keeping a fast, not all are expected to participate. If you are physically or mentally unfit to keep a fast because you are sick, nursing, pregnant, disabled, or elderly, you are not required to keep your fasts. Young children are not required to fast either although many keep half-fasts, what we call “chirriya rosa”. This is seen as a way to ease children into the practice of fasting. I remember when I was about eight or nine, growing up in Pakistan, I was always so excited by the prospect of keeping a fast. I often kept a “chirriya rosa” and always asked my mother for permission to keep a “real” fast. Keeping your first “fast” is a rite of passage in Muslim societies.
Ramadan is also a time for family, friends and the community to come together. The occasion of “breaking fast” every sunset is called “Iftar” or “Futoor”. It is celebrated with friends and family and very delicious food is prepared! It is tradition to break your fast by eating a dry fruit like a date.
Since I am from Pakistan, Iftar dishes include “samosas” (meat or vegetable turnovers), “chaat” (a mix of vegetables tossed in tangy sauce and yogurt), “pakoras” (deep fried fritters), “dahi-balay” (lentil dumplings in spiced yogurt), and anything else you may have been craving during the day!
“Chaand Raat”, in Urdu, Hindi, and Bengali meaning “the night of the full moon”, marks the end of Ramadan and the eve of the Muslim festival of Eid ul-fitr. In Pakistan, Chaand Raat is celebrated with the application of henna, dancing, and other festivities. You can hear many Muslims greet and embrace each other with “Eid Mubarak” (Blessed Eid). On the day of Eid, many Muslims attend prayers in the mosque and then visit the homes of friends and relatives to celebrate their blessings.