The appearance of the crescent moon against the night sky signals the beginning of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month.
The literal translation of the word Ramadan is "to be burnt, scorched." This ninth month on the Islamic calendar is set apart for observant Muslims to engage in disciplined practices intended to "burn off the bad" accumulations from the previous year.
Here are three things every non-Muslim should know about this season...
1. Fasting isn't the point of Ramadan.
Ramadan is a spiritual practice, not primarily a physical one. Imagine a combination Lent, New Year’s, and a spiritual retreat you don’t have to leave home for.
We hear so much about fasting during Ramadan that we often miss the greater point: Ramadan is about strengthening a person’s connection to God.
Ramadan is a time set apart, a chance for Muslims to refocus on what's important, to let go of things that distract. Ramadan is a time for prayer, for reading the Qur’an, and for acts of charity. It provides a lens through which to examine everyday life, to see where there might be distance from God.
Writer Naila Kelani describes Ramadan this way:
Ramadan gives you 30 days to stop relying on food and drink for emotional fulfillment. In a world that pushes us tirelessly to consume, a religiously stipulated time dedicated to refueling the soul and building constructive habits is truly refreshing.
It's a good time for new beginnings, and a good time to try and implement new habits with the knowledge that there are scores of other people working to improve themselves, too.
When done right, Ramadan fosters a beautiful balance between social responsibility and self-knowledge; Muslims are encouraged to spend time alone in introspection, but also to be present for one another.
It's a profound exercise in realizing that strong communities depend first and foremost on self-accountability, and that there is no self without responsibility to others.
2. Fasting involves more than food and drink.
It’s true that Muslims refrain from eating or drinking anything—including water—from before sunup to after sundown. But the Ramadan fast is much broader. It includes fasting from all intense physical desires like smoking and sex, as well as avoiding negative habits such as swearing, gossip, and anger.
Ramadan is a cleanse for the body, mind, and spirit.
3. Ramadan is a celebration.
From outside, Ramadan might seem like a hardship. But many observant Muslims look forward to Ramadan with eagerness!
It's a time when the world’s Muslims, regardless of culture or citizenship, take part in the same practice. Many feel a strong connection to the global Muslim family during the month of Ramadan. For Muslims who live in communities with other Muslims, Ramadan is filled with visits from family and friends. There's a strong sense of togetherness—everyone participating in the challenges of the fast, and everyone breaking the fast together at day’s end.
Ramadan closes with the feast known as Eid al-Fitr, "the festival of the breaking of the fast." It is the only day in the Islamic calendar when fasting is forbidden. A day marked by joy, generosity, and prayer.
4. You can encourage your Muslim friends with a simple greeting.
Let your Muslim neighbors know you are thinking of them this Ramadan, but sharing this greeting:
Ramadan Mubarak! Ramadan Kareem! Kul ‘am wa enta bi-khair!
It means, "Blessed Ramadan! Generous Ramadan! May every year find you in good health!" (Or you can just say, "Ramadan Mubarak!")