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A Brief Guide to Ramadan 2017 in Sweden and Abroad

by Elizabeth Gray

In Sweden, the Muslim holy month of Ramadan began at sunset on Friday May 26th and will end approximately on June 24th. Ramadan lasts 29 or 30 days, depending on the moon cycle.

Ramadan is based on the lunar calendar, and according to many Islamic traditions, it begins when the new moon is visible. It is possible to calculate the birth of a new moon; however, certain factors such cloudiness and atmospheric conditions can interfere with visibility.   The holiday only begins once the moon is seen.

During Ramadan, Muslims are required to abstain from food and drink during the daylight hours. The fasting has several purposes. The practice is supposed to lead the person to feel greater empathy towards those who do not have enough to eat.   It is also meant for the person to become more spiritually disciplined.

Fasting for Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam. The others include giving to charity, praying five times a day, making the Hajj (a religious visit) to Mecca and making a public profession of faith.

Night view of the Blue Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey.  Photo by E. Gray
Night view of the Blue Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey. Photo by E. Gray

Fasting is an important part of Ramadan, but there are other facets to the holiday as well.   The Muslim holy month of Ramadan is a chance for reading and reflection; some Muslims read the entire Qur’an, the Islamic holy book, over the month-long holiday.   Additionally, doing good deeds is even more emphasized during Ramadan.

Ramadan is also a time to enjoy delicious food in the company of friends and family. When night falls, it is time to break the fast and many Muslims choose to eat a communal meal with friends, family or neighbors. At the Uppsala mosque in Uppsala, Sweden, it is possible to break the fast together with other practitioners of the faith every night during Ramadan.

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Traditional Bengali food prepared for iftar, or the meal to break the fast, Yokohama, Japan. Photo by E. Gray

Many Muslims also invite non-Muslim friends and colleagues to break the fast with them throughout the season.   Others use the opportunity to educate their communities about the holy month especially in places where Islam is not the religion of the majority. For example, the Muslim Student Association at the University of Kansas in the USA has hosted events such as the Fast-a-thon where non-Muslims are invited to fast alongside their Muslim friends and neighbors. For every person fasting, an amount of money is given to charity. On the night of the Fast-a-thon, participants are invited to a community meal featuring characteristic food from Muslim traditions throughout the world. The evening also includes activities like a quiz competition about different aspects of Ramadan and Islam in general. In true American fashion, participants were given Fast-a-thon T-shirts. The thinking was that people would strike up conversations with people wearing the T-shirts, thus further familiarizing people with Ramadan traditions.

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Open house at the Lawrence Islamic Center with the University of Kansas Muslim Student Association, Lawrence, Kansas, USA. Photo by Yusra Nabi.
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Communal meal during the Open House at the Lawrence Islamic Center; Lawrence, Kansas, USA. Photo by Yusra Nabi.

Certain Ramadan traditions can vary since Ramadan is celebrated by people from a wide range of countries and there are different branches of religious traditions within Islam itself.   Ramadan is celebrated throughout the world and there are more than 50 Muslim-majority countries in the world, according to the Pew Research Center, an organization based in the US.   The same organization states that in 2015, 1.8 billion people in the world are Muslims, making it the world’s second largest religion after Christianity.   It is also the world’s fastest-growing major religion.

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Mosque in Paramaribo, Suriname. Photo by E. Gray.

The celebration itself is subject to local conditions.   On its website, Al-Jazeera recently featured a map showing the hours of daylight in each part of the world, which corresponds to the amount of time Muslims fast. In Sweden, this year, many Muslims fast 20 hours based on the actual number of daylight hours. In some places in Sweden such as Kiruna, the sun never officially sets during this season, leading Islam councils to make special rulings regarding fasting in these areas.

The end of Ramadan is marked by Eid al-Fitr, or breaking of the fast. The celebration is held for three days and is marked by food, gift-giving and exchanging cards with loved ones. New clothes are often worn and the holiday is also an opportunity to make donations to charity. Traditionally, families share their feasts with those around them and especially with people in need.

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New clothes for Eid al-Fitr, the end of Ramadan, also known as the Sweet Festival, Stockholm, Sweden. Photo by E. Gray.
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Three different varieties of dates, a traditional food for the Ramadan season in many countries, Konya, Turkey. Photo by E. Gray.

Eid al-Fitr is also known as the holiday of sweets. Prior to the 2016 Eid al-Fitr celebration, Al-Jazeera online published a guide to Eid al-Fitr sweets with an interactive map showing the sweets prepared in differents regions such as Sudan, Russia, Malaysia and China. The site also provide recipes for each dish.  View the page here:  http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/interactive/2016/07/foods-eid-al-fitr-160705121718772.html

The celebration is also a time of forgiveness and giving thanks. It is also an occasion to spend time with friends, family and neighbors.

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Kadayıf, a dessert made of syrup and filo dough, topped with ice cream and pistachio powder. Konya, Turkey, an important site in Sufi Islam. Photo by E. Gray.

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