Blog post with episode 14 : Ramadan in Palestine
Muslim hijri calendar
The Muslim Calendar is not the same as the Gregorian calendar that is now universally used. The Gregorian calendar is not the only existing calendar. There have been so many different calendars used and there are still so many different calendars, think for example of the Hebrew calendar, the Chinese calendar, the Zoroastrian calendar. Calendars are either based on seasons, on solar, lunar or solilunar.
A solar year — the time it takes Earth to orbit the sun — lasts around 365 days, while a lunar year, or 12 full cycles of the Moon, is roughly 354 days. Because of this discrepancy, a purely lunar calendar — like the Islamic, or Hijri, calendar — doesn’t stay aligned with the seasons.
And that’s why the month of Ramadan falls every year about 10 or 11 days earlier than the previous year.
The month of Ramadan is the 9th month of the Islamic calendar. And the calendar is also called the Hijri calendar. This Hijri calendar starts counting from the year 622 AD
The hijra or emigration of Muhammad from Mecca to Medina
What important event happened in 622 AD? It is the year in which the Prophet Muhammad who was from Mecca had to leave his hometown because of the people who did not believe in the revelation he was receiving from God through the angel Gabriel or Jibril and they were persecuting him and his followers. So on invitation of the people of the city of Yahtrib, Muhammad and his followers emigrated to live in more peaceful circumstances. And they then renamed Yathrib to Al Medinah al Munawarrah (luminous or enlightened) and that was later shortened to just Medina.
So this emigration, which is in Arabic hijra, gave the name to the Islamic calendar. So we start counting from 622 and we take into account that the Hijri calendar is 11 days shorter than the Gregorian calendar. Then after calculating you will find that we are now in the year 1442 of the hijri calendar.
Revelations from God to prophet Muhammad
Back to the month of Ramadan, the 9th month, is an important month because it is considered to be the month in which Prophet Muhammad started to receive for the first time revelations from God through the archangel Gabriel or Jibril.
He did not get the whole Quran in the same day. The Quran as we know it today is said to have been revealed to him over the course of 23 years. From the first time when he was meditating in a cave on Mount Hira near Mecca when he was 40 years old, until he died at the age of 63. During all these 23 years he had at times revelations that he shared with his companions and that he and they memorized and at some point they started to write it down until it was all collected in writings a few years after prophet Muhammad died.
So in this month of Ramadan there is also a night that is very special, it is called Leilat al Qadr, and it is the night in which they commemorate this event. Usually the 27th of the month although there is no certain date for it. Many Muslims spend the night in prayer just like the Prophet Muhammad used to do according to the hadith.
Difference between Quran and hadith
And the hadith is something different than the Quran. The Quran is according to Muslims the word of God. It is what God revealed to the people through Muhammad, his messenger. The Hadith is a collection of traditions and daily practices of Muhammad. Things he used to say and do that are taken as an example of how a good Muslim should live her or his life.
The month of Ramadan starts with the first crescent of the new moon, indicating a new month. And that’s not the same time in different countries all over the globe. So that’s why it is not always clear in advance on which day the month will start and the fasting will start and it can differ.
But once the crescent moon is seen then the holy month starts and then what?
Then Muslims will neither eat nor drink nor smoke, nor have sexual activity during the day time, from dawn to dusk.
And you have to realize that from dawn to dusk differs also from place to place. In my country the Netherlands for example Muslims can break their fasting only at 8.30 PM at this time of year. While in Palestine it is at 19.10
And day by day this also changes so towards the end of the month the days are longer and people will also have to fast a bit longer until iftar time.
Suhoor early morning
Before dusk Muslims will eat what is called ‘suhoor’, the pre-fasting meal, so that is very early in the morning. And then they pray the first prayer of the day the ‘fajar’. Then they go about their days normally, they go to work, to school, they pray their prayers at the usual times of the day. When they break their fasting in the evening it is basically their breakfast so that’s why it is called ‘iftar’, the Arabic word for breakfast.
One of the five pillars of Islam
Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam, the five basic tenets of the Muslim religion. The other four, we will discuss in another episode, are the Shahadah, the Muslim profession of faith, the salat, the prayer five times a day, the zakat, the alms tax or charity for poor, the hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca.
It is custom for Muslims to break their fasting by eating a date, because that is what the prophet Muhammad used to do. Some people drink milk, others water and often they start with a soup to settle the stomach after such a long day of not eating.
A month of social connection as well as introspection
Even though the social aspect is very important, the month of Ramadan is also a month of introspection of meditation and of reading the holy Quran. After the iftar meal many people go to the mosque to pray and during the month of Ramadan the entire Quran is read in the mosque or by people at home.
Not everybody has to observe the fasting, for example women who are pregnant or nursing, old, weak, sick people, mentally ill people and women on their period don’t fast but they usually make up these days of fasting after the month of Ramadan.
Eid al Fitr
The end of the month of Ramadan is celebrated with the feast of breaking the fasting. The first day of the new month of Shawal is the day of the feast. This is the only day in the month of Shawal that you are not supposed to fast. Even if you have to make up for days of not fasting during Ramadan, for example women who had their period, then this first day of Shawal you don’t fast, because it is a feast!
This is the day for which people buy new clothes and they prepare sweets and here in Palestine it goes like this: the women stay at home and prepare coffee, tea and sweets and the men go and visit their female family members. Their sisters, they aunts, their cousins and also some friends and neighbors. This is over a period of three days.
Usually these visits are pretty short. It is more of a habit, a custom, a tradition of showing family members that you care and to celebrate the Eid.