Source: Religion & Ethics Newsweekly:"Profile: Ramadan Observance"
Afeefa Syeed, the mother of three boys in Sterling, Virginia, states, “Ramadan is considered a visitor that comes once a year, so you open your doors and you let the visitor come in and basically take over your life.” This video from Religion & Ethics Newsweekly follows Syeed and her family as they observe the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Fasting during the month of Ramadan is a requirement for all healthy and able Muslims above the age of puberty. During this time, Muslims abstain from food and drink during the daylight hours. Muslims follow a lunar calendar, so the length of the daily fast varies from year to year. A lunar month spans about 29.5 days and is about one to two days shorter than a typical month in the solar Gregorian calendar. This means that a lunar calendar year is about 11 days shorter than the standard Gregorian year. As a result, dates of events in the Islamic lunar year “move forward” about 11 days every year. For example, in 2008 the first of Ramadan is September 1 and in 2009 it is August 22. This also means Ramadan can fall in different seasons.
Muslims rise early in the morning during Ramadan to have a pre-dawn meal, known as suhoor. The fast then begins at dawn and lasts until sunset. It is common for Muslims to break their fast with dried dates, a tradition of the Prophet Muhammad.
Muslims observe the month of Ramadan through increased worship and contemplation. More time is devoted to reading the Qur’an, the divinely revealed holy book of Islam, and other acts of piety. In the spirit of the holy month, it is prescribed that Muslims not only abstain from food and drink, but from negative thoughts and behaviors. Fasting and a positive mindset allow Muslims to naturally acquire and practice patience, perseverance, compassion, forgiveness, and generosity. The possession of these qualities helps complete the spiritual renewal Muslims experience during Ramadan.
The observance of Ramadan allows Muslims to increase their faith and become closer to God. The positive feelings and behaviors associated with Ramadan are qualities that Muslims hope to extend long after the month is over.
BOB ABERNETHY (anchor): For the world's billion plus Muslims, Ramadan is the annual month-long period of spiritual disciplines celebrating the revelation of the Qur'an to the prophet Mohammed. For America's several million Muslims, Ramadan brings all the traditional observances and also, this year, heightened sensitivity about being Muslim in America.
Deryl Davis visited a Muslim family in Northern Virginia.
"NATIVE BEAN" GROUP: Ramadan is here -- fasting and not eating food, acting nice and not rude. Instead of watching movies today, let's go to the masjid and pray.
DERYL DAVIS: It's a "Ramadan party" at a Muslim center in Sterling, Virginia. The participants are children, and they've gathered to prepare for the holiest month of the year.
Twelve-year-old Zaki al Barzinji is one of them.
ZAKI AL BARZINJI: Ramadan is the month in which was sent down the Qur'an as a guide to mankind.
AFEEFA SYEED: Ramadan is considered a visitor that comes once a year, so you open your doors and you let the visitor come in and basically take over your life.
DAVIS: Afeefa Syeed is Zaki's mother. She's organized this party to teach the children about the traditions of Ramadan, one of which is fasting [from] sunrise to sunset. It's required of Muslims past the age of puberty, but children are also encouraged to fast.
Traditionally, dates are used to break each day's fast at sundown.
Suhaib al Barzinji is Zaki's father. He says Ramadan is especially important for Muslim children in America.
SUHAIB AL BARZINJI: It's the only holiday that they can truly call their own, that they can possess and sort of, you know, be proud that we are Muslims and we have this month that's really unique to us.
"NATIVE BEAN" GROUP: So always be proud, you can say it loud. I'm proud to be down with the Muslim crowd. M-U-S-L-I-M.
DAVIS: American Muslims are aware of the attention they're likely to receive this Ramadan, and they say that's good. They want non-Muslims to understand what their faith is about and to recognize that a good Muslim can also be a good American.
Afeefa Syeed says recent events have made that more important.
MS. SYEED: Many of us felt we had to be defensive about Islam. Well, you know, we had to say, "No, Islam is not this. Islam is not that." But now we can say, "Okay, Islam is this." Ramadan gives us that opportunity.
DAVIS: Once Ramadan begins, a typical day for the al Barzinji family starts well before dawn. With pancakes and bagels to help him get started, seven-year-old Yusuf decides he'll try to fast today. Next come pre-dawn prayers. Muslims are expected to perform a cleansing ritual before they talk to God.
MR. AL BARZINJI: In Ramadan, there's this heightened awareness of being -- of having a relationship -- with God. For Muslims, prayer is the fundamental practice that you do everyday that reminds you of God.
DAVIS: Muslims are called to pray five times a day during Ramadan, as they are the rest of the year. Ramadan observances encourage Muslims to reflect on their relationship with God, their behavior toward others, and their concern for the less fortunate.
The family reads the Qur'an as the day of fasting begins. They won't eat or drink anything, including water, from sunrise to sunset. Sexual activity is also prohibited during the same hours. But in other ways, Muslims lead their normal lives, going to work or going to school.
ZAKI: For me, Ramadan is a time when we remember our Lord. It's also a time where we, since we abstain from food, we sort of get a feel for what it's like for people who don't have food.
DAVIS (to Zaki): Is fasting hard during Ramadan? Is it difficult to do?
ZAKI: The first few days it's kind of hard, but once you do it for a couple of days, it's like routine, just as long as you get a good breakfast in the morning.
DAVIS: Children are disappointed when they can't maintain the rigors of the fast.
MS. SYEED: Sometimes in the middle of the day, the kids will of course say, "I'm hungry and I want to eat." A lot of the times, though, as soon as they do eat, they'll be so upset and so mad, so I try to get them to hang on just a little bit longer.
DAVIS: The spirit of Ramadan also requires compassionate behavior.
MS. SYEED: If you're not patient and persevere then you break your fast. If you're not peaceful, if you don't have salaam, then you break your fast. If someone comes and is upset with you or is angry with you and you react in an angry way, you're breaking your fast.
DAVIS: After sunset, the al Barzinjis join other families at a local community center.
Then the time for special evening prayers. Each night, Muslims follow their spiritual leader in reading and reciting a portion of the Qur'an. They will recite the entire holy book by the end of Ramadan. Children join their parents as the Qur'an is read.
MS. SYEED: You get to go with the grown-ups, you get to pray with the grown-ups. It's a big deal in that way, and you take the Qur'an with you and you're actually following the imam as he reads.
MR. AL BARZINJI: In many of the prayers we do, we are always asking that God help those who are suffering, that God provide for them, God take them out of their misery, you know, and bless them.
DAVIS: Charity is especially emphasized during Ramadan. This year, Muslims are thinking of those who suffer in conflicts around the world.
MS. SYEED: We're going to have to pray real hard and work real hard on ourselves this Ramadan, and then we're gonna have to roll up our sleeves and figure out how can we make the world a better place for everybody.
DAVIS: This is Deryl Davis in Sterling, Virginia.
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