Thursday, June 18 is the day of the Integrated Algebra Regents Exam for eighth graders at BSGE. For students in other grades, it’ll be just another day. But June 18th is a special day for Muslims. Those following the scientific calculations of moon positions, at least. For these people, the 18th will be the start of a month-long holiday, known as Ramadan.
During this month, Muslims fast (go without food or drink) from sunrise to sunset. Sunrise will be around 3:45 am this year, which means that many of us will be waking up around 3 am to make ourselves a meal, also known as Suhoor, before making the intention to fast.
Sunset will be around 8:30 pm this year (give or take a few minutes throughout the month), which means that as soon as the call to prayer (also known as the Athan) goes off, we will be breaking our fasts with a date and some water, followed by a meal. This process is known as Iftaar. To put this into perspective for you, people will be going for 17 or so hours (between Suhoor and Iftaar) without putting any kind of food or drink (including water) into their system.
This may seem like cruel and unusual punishment, but many people look forward to Ramadan every year. Because while it’s a month for fasting, it’s also a month for praying, asking for redemption, and doing good deeds. And while that’s the religious aspect of it, there’s also the social aspect of visiting many different houses of friends and family and breaking fast together during Iftaar.
Muslims fast for many different reasons, and Ramadan means something different to everyone. The first most obvious reason is that fasting during Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam, right along with the belief in one God and the Prophet Mohammed, praying five times a day, the giving of charity, also called Zakaat, and making the religious pilgrimage known as Hajj.
But there’s also the idea that it helps you build awareness of those around you that are less fortunate than you are. By starving in a sense, you get a feeling of what it’s like for those that aren’t able to afford food or water, and those who don’t have access to nutritious food and clean water.
Additionally, fasting allows you to maintain a sense of control over your desires. Throughout the rest of the year, when you’re hungry, you can just walk into your kitchen and find yourself something to eat (or you can go out and buy yourself a snack of some sort). If you’re thirsty, you can go to a water fountain or buy yourself a bottle of water. But during Ramadan, you cannot really act upon these cravings. You have to force yourself to think about something else, and just deal with it.
Typically, if you are not able to fast (because you’re sick and require medication, or if you’re pregnant), you are supposed to donate money so that you can feed someone that is hungry. In that way, you still have some sense of awareness for people that have less than you.
So during this time, try to be mindful of Muslims around you. Try not to gloat in their face about all the delicious food you’re able to eat that they can’t. Maybe try fasting in solidarity with them, even if only partially. And even if you’re not fasting, definitely break fast with them – or even go to the many Ramadan buffets offered throughout our multicultural Queens (Steinway and Jackson Heights are the prime destinations). Do something different, and celebrate this wonderful holiday.