Ramadan (Rom-a-don) is as important to Muslims as Christmas and Yom Kippur are to Christians and Jews. Because Ramadan is based on the lunar calendar it begins about eleven days earlier each year. During this time, Muslims continue to pray five times each day adding a special evening prayer, "Taraweeh" which consists of reading as much of the Qur'an as possible during this month.
During the month of Ramadan is the night of Lailat ul-Qadr (Night of Power/Decree) said to be when the angel Gabriel revealed the first verses of the Holy Qur'an to Prophet Muhammad. Many Muslims spend the entire night in prayer.
The purpose of a fast is to learn discipline, self restraint and generosity, while obeying Allah's (God's) commandments.
The daily period of fasting starts at the breaking of dawn and ends at the setting of the sun. In between -- that is, during the daylight hours -- Muslims totally abstain from food, drink, smoking and sex. The usual practice is to have a pre-fast meal (suhoor) before dawn and a post-fast meal (iftar) after sunset.
The benefits of Ramadan are considered to be:
* increased compassion for those in need of the necessities of life
* sense of self-purification and reflection
* renewed focus on spirituality
* feeling of shared togetherness by family and friends.
Fasting is one of the "five pillars" of the Islamic religion, the others being:
* declaration of faith
* daily prayers
* a pilgrimage to Mecca
During Eid al-Fitr Muslims greet each other with congratulatory phrases for completing the daily fast, such as:
* "Taqabbalallah ta'atakum" (May God accept your deeds).
* "Eid Mubarak" (Blessed Eid).
* "Kullu am wa antum bi-khair" (May you be well throughout the year).
* "Elveda, ey Ramazan" (Farewell, O Ramadan).
* "Ramadam mubarak" (A Blessed Ramadan).
In Muslim countries, most people observe the fast, so there are fewer temptations to abandon the physical demands of fasting. Co-workers can show their willingness to make minor allowances by not insisting on the acceptance of an invitation to lunch, or understanding reluctance to participate in office parties or the consumption of traditional Christmas delicacies.
Employers often show special consideration in the areas of requests for vacation time, adjustments to allow more flexible work hours, and time to attend Eid al-Fitr prayers.
A small token such as a card (Eid cards are available in Muslim bookstores and on the Internet) or baked goods are greatly appreciated.
Ramadan ends one month later with communal Eid Al Fitir prayers and the Feast of the Fast Breaking.
Islam is one of the fastest growing religions in the United States and around the world. There are an estimated 6 million Muslims in American and some 1.2 billion worldwide.