As the end of the month of Ramadan draws to an end, Muslims around the world eagerly watch for the crescent of the new moon. The crescent means that Ramadan is over, a time for the people of the Muslim faith to celebrate. This year, the crescent was spotted the night of Friday, Nov. 12.
THE MONTH of Ramadan began Oct. 15 and is observed for 29 to 30 days according to the movement of the moon. According to Aisha Bates, a practicing Muslim for eight years, Ramadan is the month that the Qu'ran was descended upon the prophet Muhammed. After receiving this scripture, Muhammed knelt, prayed, and some claim he fasted. This is the basis for present day Muslims. Today, Muslims observe Ramadan by fasting, they must abstain themselves from "worldly things" during the day, only at night can they eat and drink. This gives them an increased compassion for those in need.
"It makes us grateful for the blessings we have. We know that when the time comes, we will get to eat again," said Imam Johari Abdul-Malik. During Ramadan, they also pray five specific prayers, which are determined by the movement of the sun. "These five prayers help us remember God throughout the day. They help us submit ourselves to God," said Bates. According to Abdul-Malik, the most important part of Ramadan is the giving. The Qu'ran says that it is the responsibility of the Muslims — particularly the wealthy — to care for the less fortunate and oppressed. The zakat redistributes the wealth by requiring people to pay 2 1/2 percent of their total wealth. "We are opening our doors and inviting others to join in sharing our blessings," said Abu Nahidian. Another important aspect of Ramadan is the reading of the Qu'ran. The Qu'ran is divided into 30 parts; one part is read each day of Ramadan. The Qur'an is believed to be the revelations that God revealed to Muhammed over a 23-year period.
The main reason Muslims observe Ramadan is to bring them closer to God. "Ramadan is acknowledging that we belong totally to God. It is saying no to me and yes to him," said Nahidian. "Ramadan brings about humility and submission to God. It is all about submitting to God and forgetting everything else," said Bates. Throughout the month of Ramadan, Muslims develop a better understanding of who God is, which makes it easier for them to live for him. According to Sabri Ben Kahla, each year Ramadan gets a little easier. Eid Al-Fitr marks the end of Ramadan. After the crescent is spotted, Muslims worldwide join together to break their fast and pray. "It is a time to celebrate," said Abdul-Malik. "The most important part of Ramadan," says Bates, "is worship." Thousands of Muslims from the area gathered on Nov. 13 and 14 at the Mount Vernon Convention Center in Washington to participate in the Eid Al-Fitr, or graduation from Ramadan. They sang traditional songs, praising God and thanking him for his blessings. They also joined together in prayer and recitation of the Qu'ran.
THE WORD ISLAM means submission. In a religious context, it means a complete submission to the will of God. For Muslims, Islam is not only a religion, but also a complete way of life. They practice mercy, peace, and forgiveness. Today, more than 1 billion people profess to be Muslim. Muslims believe in One, Unique, Incomparable God. They believe that he is the sole creator of the universe and in his complete authority over human kind. "There is only one God, and only one message. God's message is to do good to all mankind," said Abdul-Malik. Muslims also believe in the prophets, including Jesus, however God's final message to man was revealed to the Prophet Muhammed through the angel Gabriel.
The framework of the Muslim life is the "five pillars of Islam." These pillars are faith, prayer, concern for the needy, self-purification, and the pilgrimage to Makkah.
The first pillar, faith, proclaims that there is no god worthy of worship except God, and his messenger is Muhammed. God is the source of all creation. The second pillar, prayer, is a direct link between the worshipper and God. The prayers contain verses from the Qu'ran and are recited in Arabic, led by a learned person who knows the Qu'ran. The five prayers are said at dawn, noon, mid-afternoon, sunset, and nightfall. Zakat, the third pillar, is one of the most important principles of Islam. Knowing that all things belong to God, Muslims must set aside a proportion of their wealth for the needy. The fast for Muslims takes place during Ramadan. They are to fast from food, drink, and sexual relations from the first light until the sun goes down. In Islam, fasting is considered a method of self-purification. The final pillar, pilgrimage, is an obligation only for those who are physically and financially able to perform it. About 2 million people travel to Makkah each year. The pilgrims join in prayers for God's forgiveness, in what is thought of as a preview of the Last Judgment. The journey is ended by a festival, which is celebrated with prayers and the exchange of gifts.
"No matter who you are, God's message is the same for all of us," Abdul-Malik said. "We are good people, we all worship the same God," said Bates.