Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic year, begins at sunset the evening of June 5 this year.
The Islamic calendar is tied to the circles of the moon, rather than Earth’s journey around the sun, so Ramadan is observed about 11 days earlier every year. It takes 33 years for it to come back to the same time of year. The name of the month comes from a word meaning “hot” or “burned” which suggests that Ramadan was originally a summer month as it is this year.
During this sacred month, Muslims past the age of puberty are required to observe the five pillars of Islam, including fasting; the profession of faith in Allah as the one god and in Muhammad as his prophet; prayer five times a day; the giving of alms to the poor; and the hajj, a pilgrimage to Mecca.
Muslims abstain from drinking and eating during the hours of daylight. They often get up when it is still dark to eat the first meal of the day before the sun rises. The meal that breaks the fast at the end of the day after sunset is often a celebratory family feast. After a long day without food and water, the pleasures of food are especially appreciated. The food is consecrated to God, who is praised for providing it.
In her book Sacred Food, Elisabeth Luard describes the way Ramadan is celebrated in Morocco. The early morning meal is light, maybe just bread and mint tea. Especially when Ramadan falls during the hot summer months, people may take time off from work in the middle of the day to rest at home. But when the sun sets, a mood of celebration pervades the town. The fast is often broken with a light snack of dates or milky coffee flavored with mint, followed by a hearty bowl of harira (a stew made with lentils and chickpeas). Another meal may be eaten at midnight, perhaps a hearty couscous or a tagine, along with sweets.
Waverly Fitzgerald is a writer, teacher, and calendar priestess who has studied the lore of holidays and the secrets of time for decades. She shares her research and her thoughts on her Living in Season website and in her book, Slow Time. She is currently working on a series of essays about looking for nature in the city and blogs for the Seattle PI as the “Urban Naturalist.”