By Mary Chan
With the sighting of the new moon either this Sunday or Monday, the Muslim holy month of Ramadan draws to a close for another year. Though not as prominent in North America as Christmas, Ramadan is one of two major religious holidays for Muslims during the year.
“Ramadan is a month in the Islamic calendar in which Muslims are commanded to fast during daylight hours from food, drink, smoking and sex,” explained Muslim Students’ Association President Eric Engler. “It’s a commandment from God as given in the Koran. It allows people to empathize with people less fortunate, people who go around on a daily basis with not enough food.”
There are two important parts of day during Ramadan: the Tarawah is a nightly prayer usually held in a mosque–attendance is optional; the Iftar is the breaking of the fast for the day at sunset.
“During that time, people go to other people’s houses and eat with them,” explained Engler.
Charity is another important aspect of Ramadan.
“You feel empathy toward a person who doesn’t have the luxury of eating every day,” said Engler.
As a result a Zakat, or ‘poor due’ tax, of 2.5 per cent of a person’s wealth is given to a person in need. Typically, the money is given to a special organization who then distributes to those in need.
The first day of the month that follows Ramadan, Eid, is one of celebration.
“There’s a lot of family gathering that day,” said Engler. “It’s time to spend with your family; it’s time to worship with God.”
A special prayer is always held before the solar noon on Eid. The Calgary Muslim community usually gathers for a short prayer and sermon. Usually, 8,000-10,000 people attend.
As far as what Muslims personally glean from the experience, Engler had difficulty expressing himself with words.
“It’s a really strong spiritual experience you get from the fasting,” he said. “You feel a closer connection with God and stronger in your faith.”
“You become more aware of religion and its true meaning,” explained first-year General Studies student Sarah Zaghloul. “You have to have self-control. If you get angry and lose your temper, you’ve broken your fast.”
“Because you’re fasting you know what hunger means,” explained Yasmine Abu-Shama, who is also in her first year of General Studies. “You know what it’s like to be hungry so it makes you give to the poor.”
For Engler, it’s important that those who aren’t Muslim become aware of the religious holiday to gain knowledge of another culture and religion.
“It’s something that really goes unnoticed, especially in Western Canada,” he said. “It’s the first of our two major religious holidays of the year. And it’s practiced by anywhere between 1-1.2 billion people.”
For those interested in learning more about Ramadan or other aspects of Islam, the msa will have a display in the North Courtyard of MacEwan Student Centre next week for Islamic Awareness Week.