Prayer and charity mark Ramadan

Valley Muslims, as well as Muslims across the world, are celebrating the holy month of Ramadan.

It is a special time because it provides a break in routine that encourages personal reflection.

Practicing Muslims refrain from food, drink and undesirable behavior during this time in order to strengthen faith and practice restraint.

The fast, which begins just before sunrise and ends at sunset, is observed for 30 days. Excused from this practice are children, the sick, the elderly, the mentally challenged and pregnant or nursing women.

Ramadan is a time for prayer, increased charity and good deeds. During the month, Muslims gather together at sunset to break their fast and observe special prayers performed after the last obligatory prayer of the day.

While fasting, a Muslim experiences thirst and hunger in order to sympathize with fellow human beings who may not have the luxury of counting on their next meal.

Through fasting, Muslims learn compassion, patience and gratitude.

Ramadan is not only meant to restrict physical needs but also to encourage righteous speech and actions. The prophet is reported saying, “It may be that a fasting person attains nothing but hunger and thirst from his fasting.” This is a reminder that the true focus of Ramadan should be of improving our most inner intentions as well as outward actions.

Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar usually falls at a different time in the Gregorian calendar each year. This year, the first day of Ramadan coincided with the first day of August. The observance ends with the Muslim holiday of Eid-ul-Fitr, which is expected to fall on Aug. 31. It marks the end of Ramadan and begins a three-day feast. Many Muslims wake up early on Eid-ul-Fitr to pray at the mosque.

The dates of Ramadan shift each year because it follows a lunar month and begins about 11 days earlier each year. This year, the fast lasts approximately 16 hours, shortening by a few minutes each day as the days of the year get shorter.

During a Muslim’s lifetime, Ramadan will fall during both the relatively short months of winter and the longer days of summer.

Fasting during Ramadan fulfills one of the five pillars of Islam. The other pillars are: belief in one God, prayer, charity and making a pilgrimage to Mecca.

There is a special charity known as “zakat,” which is to be paid in the month of Ramadan each year to aid the needy in the community.

Islam teaches belief in one God, the God of Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus. The month of Ramadan is believed to be the month in which the Quran (Islam’s Holy book) was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad, the last of the prophets.

The Holy Quran says, “O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that ye may [learn] self-restraint.” (Quran 2:183.)

Jessica L. Valsi, a junior at Youngstown State University, is a member of Al-Khair Mosque in Youngstown.

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