- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 31, 2001

The Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which begins Nov. 16 or 17, reminds believers of their faith but is never immune from thorny cultural and political issues.
The month of daylight abstinence from food, water and sex is one of the "five pillars" of Islam, a defining feature of Muslim societies and a quiet challenge to believers living in the West.
"These days, the fasting is less than 12 hours," said Sabir Rahman, president of the Muslim Community Center of Silver Spring.
"Exemption from fasting cannot be given by anyone, only by the Koran, which exempts the ill and travelers," he said.
The sighting of a crescent moon, which is expected Nov. 16 and 17, begins the fasting period.
Some Muslim countries use astronomical instruments, while others rely on the eyesight of religious leaders leading to some global disputes on when the period begins and ends.
The observance marks the ninth month of the Islamic calendar.
It commemorates the Koran being revealed to Muhammad and reminds Muslims of their faith, the unity of believers and the needy.
In recent days, leaders of some Muslim nations and the American Muslim Council have urged the United States to finish its military campaign against the Taliban by Ramadan, saying that war in the holy month offends Muslims.
During the 1991 Persian Gulf war, the United States wrapped up its defeat of Iraqi forces in Kuwait 17 days before the mid-March eve of Ramadan.
"To continue the war in the holy month will only heighten the fear and anxiety from seeing the bloodshed," said Abdul Raheman Makadar of the Muslim Observer newspaper in Detroit. "It is a time of spiritual awakening, and Muslims naturally don't want to see anything inhumane," he said.
But he said Muslim wars have nevertheless been prosecuted in the holy month, "even in the time of the Prophet."
Though the Koran does not mention it, Islamic custom also has exempted "soldiers of Allah" from the fasting.
The lunar calendar of Muslim tradition is 10 days shorter than the 365 days of the Western calendar, so the month rotates across all seasons, this year falling in late autumn.
While some Muslim activists have urged U.S. public schools to provide special lunch-hour rooms for children during the fasting month, Mr. Rahman of the Silver Spring Center disagrees.
"No special conditions should be created for children," he said.
His children completed high school going to the library to avoid sitting with lunch-eating classmates, "but eventually they found the strength" to sit in the cafeteria.
In the Washington area, nearly 11 hours separates the 6:30 a.m. sunrise and 5 p.m. sunset. But Muslims add about an hour more because custom says "dawn," the first glimmer of light, starts the fasting.
During the month, Muslims try to read the entire Koran, give to charity, and share evening meals to break the fast with friends.
The month ends with a three-day feast, the Eid al-Fitr, which has just been featured on the first Muslim U.S. postage stamp.
For outdoor public feasts, Muslims in America still may have a public slaughter of goats, which U.S. Muslim leaders have asked the media not to sensationalize.
In nations where Ramadan has been established for generations, it has produced both reverence and overindulgence.
Studies of Muslim nations show that citizens gain weight during the fasting month from binge eating before dawn and after dusk. Many Muslim societies consume 30 percent of their annual food intake during Ramadan, according to Middle Eastern experts.
Critics say the daily cycle of staying up all night to eat and being lethargic in the day undercuts economic development.
Many Muslim nations shorten work hours, and in locations such as Saudi Arabia, which after Ramadan hosts the 40 days of pilgrimage to its holy sites, business and politics grind to a halt.
In those nations, non-Muslim workers who eat or smoke in public can be deported.
Observance of the fast surged abroad with the rise of new and stricter Islamic movements abroad, some of which police the holy day.
Mr. Rahman, however, said Ramadan obligations are a matter of conscience between each Muslim and God.
"But if someone does [eat] in public, people ask them to stop, and if they don't, then we ask them to leave," he said. "But there is no excommunication in Islam."

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