Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting, contemplation and prayer, began Sunday and will run through Tuesday, July 5. It’s celebrated as the month during which Muhammad received the initial revelations that would become the Quran.
During Ramadan, followers of Islam – Muslims – do not eat or drink (not even water) from sunrise to sunset, and try to abstain from impure thoughts or behavior. Daily fasts are to be broken by sharing meals with family or friends and at the end of the month, a three-day festival called Eid al-Fitr marks Ramadan’s conclusion.
Islam is the world’s second-largest religion, after Christianity, with over 1 billion followers. An approximate 7 million Muslims call the United States their home; the country’s first mosque was built by Lebanese immigrants in North Dakota in the 1920s. (It was torn down and later replaced – the country’s oldest surviving mosque is in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and dates to the 1930s.)
Because Ramadan is based on the Islamic lunar calendar (which means it follows the phases of the moon instead of the rise and fall of the sun – the lunar calendar falls short of the solar calendar by 11 days), it doesn’t start during the same date each year and can pass through every season.
Muslims are expected to go about their day-to-day tasks during Ramadan, though some increase their praying and mosque visits during the month. Ramadan is required of all Muslims puberty-aged and older, though the sick, elderly and women who are pregnant or nursing are exempt.
If you’re looking to display some decent Ramadan etiquette as a non-Muslim, greetings are as follows: The standard Ramadan greetings are “Ramadan kareem” (which means “have a generous Ramadan”) or “Ramadan mubarak” (which means “have a blessed Ramadan”). You’ll be following in the example of several U.S. presidents: Then-First Lady Hilary Clinton hosted the first Eid al-Fitr dinner at the White House in 1996. Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush both hosted iftars (the meal eaten by Muslims after sunset during Ramadan) at the White House during their terms, and Barack Obama followed suit, having the first White House Ramadan dinner in August 2010.