Ramadan: Holiday of prayer, fasting, charity

By Sgt. Ann Venturato

LOGISTICS SUPPORT AREA ANACONDA, Balad, Iraq — Muslims here in Iraq and around the world will soon be celebrating the beginning of the month-long holiday of Ramadan Oct 15.

For them, it is a holiday marked by prayer, fasting and charity. Ramadan differs from other holidays because it focuses on self-sacrifice and devotion to Allah. Ramadan is observed on the ninth month of the Muslim calendar and precedes Christmas and Hanukkah this year. It is an important holiday for Muslims because it allows them to concentrate on their faith and spend less time on the concerns of their everyday lives.

Ramadan is also when Muslims believe the Holy Quran was sent down from heaven as a means of salvation for men.

During the holiday, it is common for Muslims to spend several hours in prayer at the mosque. Besides the five daily prayers, Muslims also recite a special prayer called the Tareweeh prayer (Night Prayer). The length of this prayer is usually two to three times as long as the daily prayers. Some Muslims spend the entire night in prayer.

Muslims observe the practice of fasting, which is one of the five pillars (duties) of Islam.

During the daylight hours for the entire month of Ramadan, all able Muslims from the time they are 12 years old observe the practice of abstaining from food, drink and sexual activity as part of spiritual reflection. Muslims get up before sunrise to eat a meal called suhoor and break their fast each night after the sun sets with a meal called iftar.

Fasting reminds Muslims of the suffering of the poor. The practice also provides an opportunity to practice self-control, cleanse the body and mind, experience peace that comes from spiritual devotion as well as finding kinship with fellow believers.

The month-long fasting ends on Nov. 14 with the Ramadan festival of Eid al-Fitr, which literally means the "Festival of Breaking the Fast". Eid al-Fitr is one of the two most important Islamic celebrations - the other occurs after the Hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca. At Eid al-Fitr, people dress in their finest clothes, adorn their homes with lights and decorations, give treats to children, and enjoy visits with friends and family. The celebration resembles the Christian holiday of Christmas in its religious joyfulness and gift giving. It is a charitable time when Muslims feed the poor and make contributions to mosques.

Editor's Note: Sgt. Venturato is a member of the 13th COSCOM Public Affairs Office at LSA Anaconda, Balad, Iraq.