When the holy Islamic month of Ramadan begins at sundown this Friday, the obligation adult Muslims have to fast and to abstain from drink and having sexual relations during daylight hours will be just a bit more challenging than it was in Ramadan last year.
Because each year Ramadan, which is set according to a lunar calendar, gets 11 days earlier. And the obvious result of moving Ramadan up 11 days in this time of year is that each daily period between sunrise and sunset will be slightly longer than it was last year. So Muslims will have to fast for slightly longer this Ramadan than they did last year.
Fasting, or sawm, is one of the Five Pillars of Islam. And I'll have to ask my Muslim friends whether they even think about the slight variations in the length of daylight each year as Ramadan moves through the four seasons.
As C.T.R. Hewer writes in Understanding Islam: An Introduction, "Islam took over the names of the months from the pre-Islamic Arab calendar, but the Qur'an made it clear that the moon is to be the measure of time. This ended the practice of putting in 'leap months,' like the Jewish calendar, to keep the months coordinated with the seasons. Thus the Islamic calendar follows an unadjusted lunar system, which means that each year is approximately eleven days shorter than a solar year."
Hewer also notes that by requiring Muslims to fast and abstain from sex, Islam is not suggesting "that these things are bad, far from it, but they are among the most fundamental of human urges. If one can take control of these things for a month, then one has a good training in taqwa, to remember God in every aspect of life and live accordingly."
I'm struck by how much that approach is similar to a foundational concept in Buddhism, which is that one should seek to rid one's self of desire. And, of course, other religious traditions include something similar. In Christianity, for instance, the season of Lent offers an opportunity to give something up for 40 days.
I think it would be fascinating to devote some time in interfaith dialogue discussing what the various traditions teach about controlling desire and the tools they offer to help with that. In fact, I desire that. Hmmmm.
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MORE ON BIBLES IN THE CLASSROOM
I've written recently -- and quite often in the past -- about how and when and whether to teach the Bible in public school classrooms. Here's a good column pointing out the need to do it and some options for how.