The countdown has begun for Muslims throughout the world. Ramadan, which is the holiest month in the Islamic calendar, is coming in April.

Abdi Nor Iftin is a Somali-American writer, radio journalist and public speaker. He lives in Yarmouth.

The exact day to begin fasting is decided by the sighting of the crescent moon. Prophet Mohamed was quoted as saying, “Fast after you have seen (the crescent moon) and end the fast (at the end of the month) when you see it.” Maine Muslim communities will have their eyes on the skies looking for the crescent, but if it is a cloudy day then we will wait for the announcement from a Muslim leader anywhere in the world. If there is no visual sighting of the crescent moon, then there is no fasting the following day. April 12th may be the first sighting of the moon, but time will tell. What is important is that every adult Muslim, except those who are sick or traveling, must fast for the full lunar month.

While fasting is an act of worship, the month of Ramadan also has always been a great opportunity for social gathering and sharing food. This coming Ramadan will be another challenge for Maine Muslims, beginning at a time when we still have to social distance and avoid gatherings. The Kennedy Parks in Portland and Lewiston, where Muslims gather to share food and spend time together, will be empty this Ramadan. Ramadan rituals will be virtual this year. The handshakes and hugs after fasting all day will not be possible either.

Maine Muslims will fast for 16 hours. You heard that right. No food or water during those hours. In Somalia people fast for 12 hours; the days are the same year-round. In Maine, we have the longer days of spring, which makes extra hours. If Ramadan arrived in December when the sun sets around 4 p.m. we would fast fewer hours than those in Somalia do.

The meal that breaks the fast in the evening is called iftar. Food can include chicken or beef stews, goat, lamb, or chicken biriyani and the popular snacks of dates and samosas. We can eat all night but must stop eating at the Fajr prayer just before dawn.

Ramadan is about consuming less and sharing more, such as giving to charity and helping struggling members in the community. But to many Ramadan is also a way to develop tolerance. Can you abstain from eating and drinking water, cheese or milk for 16 hours? I started fasting at age 15, so now I can run, hike and play soccer without eating or drinking water all day.

You can say both “Ramadan Kareem” and “Ramadan Mubarak” to congratulate the Muslim community at the start of Ramadan. If you are a doctor, please consult with your Muslim patients about the medications they are supposed to take during the day. Needles are fine; they can take COVID-19 vaccines, this will not break their fast. If you are a schoolteacher, check with students and see if they are fasting and doing Salat al-Tarawih, which are the long prayers during Ramadan, usually 20 or more cycles that are done in group settings. This can take half the night. The Ramadan prayers are long. The longest start in the last 10 days of Radaman. This prayer is called Tahajjud. It starts at midnight and ends at 5 a.m.

I have always been told that God (Allah) opens the gates of the heavens during Ramadan, prayers are accepted during this holy month more than other months during the year. With that, I am confident that the Maine Muslim communities will pray for our state, our nation and the world.

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