By Hugh Miles, May 6, 2019

Likely date, religious, social and business implications. there is always uncertainty and frequently disagreement. This year a Moroccan astronomer has forecast that Ramadan will probably begin on Tuesday 7 May, but the National Astronomy and Geophysics Institute of Egypt has forecast Monday 6 May, probably the starting date for Saudi Arabia and the UAE also.

As we have explained in previous years, the Muslim calendar is lunar and the fasting month of Ramadan is a lunar month. It is traditionally considered to begin on the day after the new moon is sighted. That, of course, depends on cloud conditions as well as pure astronomy, and there is always uncertainty and frequently disagreement. This year a Moroccan astronomer has forecast that Ramadan will probably begin on Tuesday 7 May, but the National Astronomy and Geophysics Institute of Egypt has forecast Monday 6 May, probably the starting date for Saudi Arabia and the UAE also.

The difference between the lunar and solar calendars means that Ramadan is roughly 11 days earlier in the solar calendar each year. When it coincides with midsummer, as in the last few years, it is particularly burdensome because of the heat and also the longer daylight hours, indeed almost impossible in northern (or southern) latitudes.

The fast begins before dawn and ends at sunset. It is obligatory for all Muslims (with certain exceptions for health, age or other reasons), and requires abstinence from food, water, smoking and sexual intercourse. The Ramadan fast is considered to be one of the five “pillars of Islam” – the others are the profession of faith (shahada), prayer (salah), charity (zakaat), and pilgrimage to Mecca (hajj). Muslims consider it a time which brings Muslims closer to God. After iftar (breaking fast), many Muslims go to mosques to perform extra Ramadan night prayers (tarawih).

The routines of ordinary life are deeply affected. Some governments announce limited timetables for working hours in both the public and the private sector. Many foreigners prefer to avoid the whole month for business purposes, or at least the later weeks when the effect of fasting is felt more heavily. But for Muslim families, it is a time of happiness and blessing – for Christians Ramadan obviously recalls Lent, but in some respects, it is more like Christmas.

Many Muslims attempt to meet the full fasting obligation. Whether they do or not they respect the traditions, and non-Muslims are expected to do so as well, avoiding eating and drinking (or smoking or chewing gum) in public. But responding to the demands of tourism Dubai has since 2016 allowed hotels and restaurants to serve food and alcohol during the day, and a tourism official has suggested that when Ramadan moves to April “It’s a great opportunity for us to educate the market. We can start educating people now so they realise that Dubai is a must-visit during Ramadan.” Marking Tunisia’s secularist record the tourism minister there also has announced that some cafes and restaurants in tourist areas will remain open.

The Tunisian tourism minister also announced that this year Ramadan coincides with the traditional Jewish pilgrimage to the ancient Ghriba synagogue in Djerba, and that a special Iftar dinner will bring together representatives of different religions, journalists and the security forces.

As with Christmas, there are many traditions and customs loosely associated with Ramadan, some of which have been picked up by the media and often exploited commercially, so that the commercialisation of Ramadan is commonly deplored. The council which regulates the media in Egypt has called on TV channels to uphold “Egyptian values, ethics, tradition and identity” during the holy month, which is a hot season for the entertainment industry.

Ramadan is also the occasion for charitable activities such as a Saudi campaign to send food aid to displaced and impoverished families in Sudan. A letter to the Bahrain Gulf Daily News refers to a proposed clampdown on beggars and asks whether the authorities will also take action over the reasons people beg, such as non-payment of wages and the imposition of travel bans. Some governments take measures to ensure that there are adequate supplies of food during Ramadan when there are often complaints of shortages and overpricing.

Ali Abbas al-Ahmad, a Saudi analyst and director of the Institute for Gulf affairs in Washington, has tweeted a comment on Ramadan: In our diverse country, our people start Ramadan according to their respective religious authority. Most Sunnis & all Salafi/Wahhabi adherents follow the government Wahhabi religious body in start & end of the fasting month. Shia Arabs do not follow the Saudi state writ on Ramadan but follow their respective Ayatollahs, in Iraq, Kuwait & Iran. This means the start & end dates can vary by up to 2 days following the various methods many Ayatollahs use. The Ismaili Fatimids in #Najran & across the country follow the ancient #Fatimid calendar & maybe the best & most stable way to fast & celebrate Eid. The #Saudi government bans Ismaili Fatimids from celebrating the end of Ramadan – Eid – if it falls a day ahead of the government’s. They are forced to pray Eid with the Saudi govt.

Article reproduced by kind permission of Hugh Miles, Editor of Arab Digest ArabDigest.org


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