Ramadan in Minnesota

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Praying together
Muslim men gather to pray after breaking their fasts in Edina, Minn. Monday, Sept. 6, 2010.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

Muslims around the world are celebrating the holy month of Ramadan, which began May 15 and will end the evening of June 14. It's a time when Muslims fast from sunrise to sundown, and a time to grow closer to God.

In the United States, eight in ten Muslims say they fast during Ramadan, according to the Pew Research Center.

MPR reporter Brandt Williams spoke with Jenan Mohajir, director of Student Leadership at Interfaith Youth Core in Chicago, and Hanadi Chehabeddine, a public speaker whose work focuses on dismantling misconceptions about Islam, to learn more about them month-long holiday. Here are some basics:

It's a time to fast and pray, serve and socialize

There are a lot of reasons Muslims fast during Ramadan. One reason is to understand what it feels like to be hungry and thirsty so you can empathize with the poor and needy. Another is to reduce distractions so that you can focus on your spiritual life. According to Chehabbedine, "The main objective behind fasting is to do it because God said, do it." She added, "It's basically going beyond the materialistic things and gaining more piety, gaining more power and building willpower to be more generous and be the best that we can be as human beings." Fasting occurs from sunrise to sundown, and Muslims traditionally break the fast with friends and family, in a meal called iftar.

It happens during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar

Muslims believe God revealed the first verses of the Quran, Islam's sacred text, to Mohammed, during the ninth month of the lunar calendar. The month of Ramadan does not line up with the Gregorian calendar and therefore can fall in different seasons. That means during the summer, the fasting hours are extra long, and can be longer depending on what part of the world you live in.

It's a sin not to fast, but not everyone has to fast

Fasting during Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam—along with a profession of faith, prayer, charitable giving, and making a pilgrimage to Mecca. Even though it's considered a sin not to fast, there are some exceptions: if you're ill, pregnant or nursing, menstruating, or traveling, or if you're a young child or elderly, you are not expected to fast. However, says Mohajir, there are ways to make up for missing the fast. "A lot of people will feed the needy as a way to be part of the spirituality of the month," she said. "If they're unable to fast they will make up for that by donating to the community."

Ramadan ends with a big celebration called Eid al-Fitr

During this three-day holiday, families feast, exchange gifts, and celebrate.

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