The start of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan officially started on Friday, and local Muslim residents have begun their spiritual rituals of prayer and fasting while renewing their Koran lessons.
Ramadan is the holiest month of the Islamic calendar, filled with about 30 days of prayer, fasting and charity.
Muslims are also required to read the Koran, the religion’s sacred book, and are encouraged to finish reading it by the end of the month.
The spiritual season may be compared to the Christian 40-day cycle of Lent, or the Jewish day of Yom Kippur, where fasting and atonement are the main acts for followers. Just as Christians often place tress inside their homes to celebrate Christmas, Muslims sometimes hang lanterns outside of their homes during the Islamic holy month.
Muslims are restricted from eating, smoking, speaking negatively or having intimate relations between dawn and sunset. A pre-dawn meal, or suhoor, may be eaten by Muslims, as well as a post-dusk serving, called iftar.
Those who do not have to follow these rules during Ramadan include pregnant women, the elderly, sick, disabled and young children.
The word Ramadan loosely means “intense heat and dryness,” which points to the burning sensation of a person’s stomach as a result of being thirsty.
Muslims believe that God, or Allah to Islamic followers, revealed the Koran to the prophet Mohammed during Ramadan.
Since then, Muslims have honored that historical moment by following the lunar calendar and marking the ninth month of Ramadan. The spiritual season changes every year.
Oussama Jammal, president of the Mosque Foundation in Bridgeview, said that there will be two separate evening shifts of prayer every day, and individuals are encouraged to bring relatives and friends.
On Nov. 13, the day after Ramadan ends, Muslims will then celebrate Eid al-Fitr, which in literal terms means “feast of breaking the fast.”
“You feel different,” said Jammal of the personal results one feels during and after Ramadan. You’re living it. You’re feeling it.”
At Moraine Valley Community College, 10900 S. 88th Ave., Palos Hills, members of the Arab Student Union will donate food to Sacred Heart Church’s food pantry and will volunteer at a Chicago soup kitchen in November.
Some community and social organizations have planned other ways to educate the public about Ramadan and the rituals that are followed in the season.
Ahmed Rehab, communications director of CAIR-Chicago, said that media kits will be distributed with background information on Ramadan, and plans are being made for speakers to appear at certain events to discuss the Islamic holy month.
Kareem Irfan, chairman of the Council of Islamic Association Organizations of Greater Chicago, said Eid al-fitr will be celebrated with Cardinal Francis George appearing as a special guest.
“It will be a celebration of togetherness,” Irfan said.
Many Islamic leaders have said that families also have their own special rituals and events during Ramadan that may differ from other families.
Oak Lawn resident Rafeeq Jaber, president of Islamic Association for Palestine in North America in Palos Hills, and a past president of the Mosque Foundation, declined from speaking as a previously scheduled event in order to honor the first day of Ramadan with his family.
He said that it is a tradition that his family has followed for 20 years.
“It gives me a good outlook on life, and (helps) to reflect on the last year,” said Jaber.
Ramadan ends on Nov. 12.
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