For most Americans, May 15 will be an ordinary Tuesday. But for 1.8 billion Muslims around the world, the evening of May 15 marks the start of Ramadan, the holiest month of the Islamic lunar calendar.
Ramadan, which will last until June 14, is a time of reflection and self-improvement celebrating the first time the Koran (Islam’s holy scripture) was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad, according to the Islamic faith. Observing Ramadan is mandatory for all Muslims, who use the time to perform charitable acts and become closer to their religion.
However, Ramadan is primarily associated with fasting. Fasting is obligatory for adult Muslims during Ramadan. The fast is from dawn to sunset, with a pre-dawn meal called suhur and sunset meal called iftar bookending the day.
Iftar, literally meaning “breakfast,” usually starts with dates and either water or a yogurt drink. After sundown prayers, there’s a full course meal with soup, salad, appetizers and main dishes. Many Muslims use this time to host dinner parties or potlucks, and invite those less fortunate over for a home-cooked meal.
Of course, Ramadan carries with it some health considerations. Muslims are advised not to over-eat during iftar, no matter how long they’ve been fasting. Health experts say that staying hydrated is very important, and the elderly and ill are generally exempt from fasting.
The Islamic Center of Southern California will have a nightly Ramadan program every night of the month, from May 16 to June 14. The program starts with 15 minutes of recitation prayer before sunset by Sheikh Asim Buyuksoy, or Dr. Saleh Kholaki. After prayer, the Center will serve iftar for about 700 people every weekend night.
Further events are planned for the rest of the month, but according to representatives at Masjid Bilal, an Islamic house of worship in South Central Los Angeles, masjids operate independently from one another, meaning that muslims should turn to their local centers for direction on festivities. Ramadan culminates with the three-day Eid al-Fitr holiday, which is often associated with festivals and celebration at Islamic centers around the world.