Over a billion Muslims worldwide are currently observing the holy month of Ramadan. I read this fascinating and informative article that focuses on the similarities and differences between Ramadan and Lent.
During the 28 days of Ramadan, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. The fast begins at dawn when one can distinguish a white thread from a black one (Quran 2:188) and ends when the sun has set below the horizon. The fast is absolute n that nothing enters the body. Thus, fasting excludes not only eating food but also drinking fluids, smoking and sexual activity.
Since the month of Ramadan moves “backward” through the solar year, it occurs at some point in every season of the year in any given location. In the summer in both northern and southern latitudes, days can be quite long and the fast can go on for more than 15 hours. If 15 hours without food is difficult, 15 hours in the summer without water is even more so.
In many places in the Muslim world, the end of the day’s fast is announced by a cannon shot or some other major public announcement after the sun sets, informing people they may now engage in iftar, or the breaking of the fast. Muslims often first eat a date to break the fast, as did Muhammad. The nightly meals during Ramadan are often quite festive and families gather and enjoy specially prepared dishes.
The Quran excuses several groups of people from fasting: the ill, those on a journey and those for whom the fast would be a grave burden. Later schools of Islamic law expanded the group to include pregnant and nursing women, small children and the elderly. Those who break the fast for whatever reason are required to feed a needy person for each day of fast they miss and to make up the days of fast when they are again able.
On the surface, Ramadan resembles Christian Lent. It differs, however, in several fundamental ways.
Perhaps the most apparent difference is that after breaking the fast at nightfall, Muslims celebrate and often feast. During the first weeks of the month, there are especially festive dinners with the last dinner of the night being the suhur, which is to be eaten as close to dawn as possible. Losing weight is not generally connected with Ramadan in the Muslim mind.
More important, unlike Lent, Ramadan is not generally understood as an act of penance. Muslims rather consider Ramadan as an exercise in self–discipline, as purification and as a reminder of the believer’s dependence on the bounty of God.
As does fasting in Christianity, Judaism and Indic religions, the fast in Islam helps the believer focus on what is important. Fasting is closely connected to prayer and contemplation. It is the setting aside of the ordinary that allows the believer to focus on the transcendent.
One of the more striking aspects of Ramadan, particularly to Christians and Jews, is the joy with which Muslims anticipate and observe the month. Whereas Lent is a time of quiet, penitential reflection for Christians and Yom Kippur (or the Day of Atonement) is a solemn day for Jews, Ramadan is a time of spiritual and physical refreshment for Muslims. It is a time to put aside the burdens and cares of everyday life and to focus on what really matters. Whereas Christians created Fat Tuesday as the last celebration before Lent, Muslims see no need to “get it all in” before Ramadan. Ramadan is a celebration.Read the whole thing here. H/T: The Deacon's Bench