Before you know it a year has gone by and Ramadan the holy month of Muslim fasting is upon us again!

The Muslim calendar is lunar, thus each solar year the month of Ramadan occurs 10 days earlier. Consequently each 9 years Ramadan falls into a different season, this affects the fasting duration and the temperature of the fasting days. It takes 36 years for the cycle to be completed, which means that every 36 solar years Ramadan will overlap with the first week of August, the grueling hottest days of summer when the fasting hours between dawn and sunset could be seventeen hours long, and in some parts of Europe it will be 21 hours long. People usually look forward to fasting during the cooler and shorter days of winter; however Muslims believe that one gets more credit for enduring the summer heat during Ramadan.

If one googles “Ramadan” one finds a rich variety of topics from the new trend of decorating for the holy month, to the medical effects of fasting, in addition to the debate concerning the freedom to not observe Ramadan “to fast or not to fast”. 

Ramadan decorations are growing in popularity; typically eye-catching Ramadan lanterns (fanous in Arabic) decorate the inside of homes and hang from street poles all over the cities.  In the outdoors all types of trees, and in particular palm trees are adorned with Plug-in strands of illuminated crescents and star-shaped bulbs, which add to the celebratory atmosphere of Ramadan. In addition, people also decorate their home windows, verandas and building fronts.

In Egypt some have taken things to extremes in imitating the Christmas traditions by inventing a new make-believe character named “Sheikh Ramadan”, a parallel to “Father Christmas” whose mission is delivering  gifts to children for Eid al-Fitr (the end of Ramadan celebration holiday). The gifts are hidden in lanterns which hang above children’s beds, as reported by the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram.

Ramadan1Every year as Ramadan approaches, religious TV programs as well as physicians are flooded with questions regarding the appropriateness of not-fasting due to illness, work conditions, or travel. Most Muslims are terrified at the thought of not-fasting without a legitimate reason. However no matter what the physicians or the clergymen advise, some will insist on fasting to the detriment of their health. Physicians usually resort to religious arguments, by quoting the Holy Quran and the Hadith to assure patients of the legitimacy of not fasting, while not disobeying divine laws.

Ramadan provides a rich field of experimentation for researchers in the medical field.  I was amazed to find that there is a journal titled the journal of fasting and health which is published in Iran, http://jfh.mums.ac.ir/. Researchers have been studying the impact of fasting in Ramadan on patients with diabetes who have to be cautious, and the effect on the metabolism of the body. Studies report that fasting in Ramadan can be beneficial for people who suffer from cardiovascular risk factors, particularly blood pressure and heart rate.

On the other hand, Muslim “liberals” take Ramadan lightly and may challenge some Muslim countries’ penalties against those who eat, drink or smoke in public during Ramadan, without a valid excuse such as illness. In sharp contrast in some Muslim countries, a number of non-Muslims abstain from such public activities as a sign of respect and solidarity, whereas the very pious Muslims willingly choose to fast for two additional months during Rajab and Sha’aban which are the lunar months that precede Ramadan.

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