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Cultural Class: The Heart of Ramadan

Ramadan ( رمضان ) is a special month of the year for millions of Arabs and Muslims in the world. Interestingly, the start of Ramadan is determined by a combination of physical sightings and astronomical calculations done based on the lunar calendar. The lunar calendar being some 11 days shorter than the Gregorian calendar, Ramadan migrates through the seasons.

The most important characteristic of Ramadan is the fasting from the breaking of dawn to the setting of the sun.  While fasting has existed in many societies and in many forms, fasting
during Ramadan is not just refraining from eating and drinking but carries the added significance of worship, psychological comfort and morality.

Another important change that comes along with Ramadan, is that workplaces and schools change to special schedule. The workday or school day ends around 4:30 pm, giving time for people to return home, rest, and prepare food for breaking the fast at sunset. In Arabic, there is a special word for the meal during Ramadan and it’s al-‘ifTaar, (الإفطار ) which during this time of the month unites families and neighbors in a social gathering to break the fast.

Different countries serve different food at al-‘ifTaar. In Morocco, for example, people typically break the fast with dates and follow it with a warm and rich soup called “Harira” ( حريرة ). Some people even jokingly say that without Harira, there is no Ramadan! The end of Ramadan is celebrated with a 2-day holiday called “the Festival of Fast-Breaking”.

The act of fasting is said to redirect the heart away from worldly activities, its purpose being to cleanse the inner soul and free it from harm. It also allows Muslims to practice self-discipline, self-control, sacrifice, and empathy for those who are less fortunate; thus encouraging actions of generosity and charity. Many believe that feeding someone al-‘ifTaar as a form of charity is very rewarding.

After all, the word “Ramadan” derives from an Arabic word for intense heart..!