Small Wars Journal

Ramadan, Eid al-Fitr, and Eid al-Adha for 2018

Wed, 04/25/2018 - 4:21pm

Ramadan, Eid al-Fitr, and Eid al-Adha for 2018

James Emery

Ramadan – Core Beliefs, Motivation, and Practices

Ramadan is the most sacred month of the year to over 1.9 billion Muslims around the world. The word, Ramadan, comes from the Arabic root “ramida” or “ar-ramad,” which means scorching heat or dryness. Ramadan originally occurred at a fixed time during the summer.

Since Islam was brought to Iran, Turkey, Afghanistan, and the Indian subcontinent by the Persians, it is called Ramazan in these areas. In Urdu and Hindi, it’s pronounced Ramzan. The simple explanation for this is the use of emphatic and fricative consonants.  In Persian, the letter “z” replaces the Arabic letter “d.”

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. It is calculated to start at the first sighting of the new crescent moon, referred to as the hilal, which is expected to occur on the evening of May 15, 2018. The fasting period will begin the day following the sighting of the new crescent moon.

Ramadan is on the same days of the Islamic calendar each year, but since this is a lunar calendar, it comes approximately eleven days earlier each year on the Gregorian calendar, which is solar. While most Muslims use astronomical charts, some Muslims rely upon the actual sighting of the new crescent moon to determine the start of Ramadan, so the beginning and ending dates may vary by a day or two from one area to another.

The traditional method of sighting the new crescent moon is to look into the sky to find it. This method requires each respective community to see the new moon, creating slight variations in the dates of Ramadan/Ramazan, Eid al-Fitr, Eid al-Adha, and other Muslim holidays within and between Muslim countries. Overcast skies, mountainous terrain, and the overlap of sun and moon cycles, can cause the start of Ramadan to be delayed in communities that rely upon the actual sighting.

The new moon is positioned between the earth and the sun, leaving the side facing earth dark and undetectable. The new crescent moon, which signifies the start of many Muslim holidays and events, evolves from this darkness, during the waxing (growing) cycle. Illumination of the initial stages of the crescent moon is usually less than 2 percent.

In 2018, the illumination of the new moon will only be 0.2 percent on May 15th and 1.4 percent on May 16th because parallel moon and sun cycles will overlap. In Mecca, the sunrise and moonrise will both occur at 05:42 a.m. on May 15, 2018. The sun will set at 06:52 p.m. and the moon will set at 06:54. The moon will not be present in the night sky, but there's a chance of seeing the edge of the moon in the Western sky just after the sun dips below the horizon.

Since so much activity and planning revolve around the start of lunar based Islamic events, many Muslims simply rely upon the predictability of published astronomical calculations to determine the start of Ramadan, Eid al-Fitr, and other holidays. The process of determining the start of Ramadan is a hotly debated topic. Some Muslim scholars suggest that Ramadan should start for everyone as soon as the new crescent moon is seen in Makkah (Mecca), Saudi Arabia. 

A number of important events occurred during Ramadan; the most significant being the revelation of the first verses of the Qur’an, also spelled Koran. The 185th verse of the second surah (also spelled sura) of the Qur’an states,

“It was in the month of Ramadan that the Qur’an was revealed as guidance for mankind…so every one of you who is present [at home] that month should fast.”

The Battle of Badr, which is referenced in the Qur’an, took place during Ramadan in March 624 A.D.  Muhammad reportedly led 313 ill-equipped, Muslim soldiers from Medina to a victory over the pagans of Mecca, whose army was estimated at 1,000 men, three times the size of the Prophet’s. This event, which began as a caravan raid, is the first time the soldiers of Muhammad were tested in a large-scale battle, compared to minor skirmishes they had been fighting. It is considered a defining moment in the early stages of Islamic history, one in which divine intervention by Allah is credited with giving Muhammad the victory. Accounts of the battle are similar to stories found in the Old Testament of the Bible.

Ramadan is a time for fasting, prayers, charity, and self-reflection. Many Muslims make personal resolutions for the coming year to improve one or more aspects of their lives. Ramadan is a time of spiritual and personal transformation of the body, heart, mind, and soul. It is the best time to begin practicing good habits and giving up things that are haraam (prohibited), discouraged, or unhealthy, such as alcohol, profanity, or smoking. In many respects, these personal vows are similar to New Year’s resolutions that Americans, and people from many other cultures around the world, make.

During Ramadan, Muslims are expected to refrain from eating, drinking, smoking, swearing, and sexual intercourse between sunrise and sunset. There are exceptions for the sick and elderly, insane, children who have not reached puberty (generally under age 12), some travelers, and pregnant, menstruating, or nursing women. Women also avoid fasting for forty days after childbirth. Some Islamic scholars state that soldiers engaged in conflict are also excluded, though this is not universal. Regardless, many Muslim soldiers and insurgents will abide by the fast.

Those who are unable to fast for these reasons are obligated to make up the days they missed as soon as they can. If they are unable to make them up, they should tithe money or grain to the mosque or directly to the poor. They should donate enough to feed at least one poor person for each day they break the fast. Fasting during Ramadan (sawm) is for self-purification. It is the fourth of the Five Pillars of Islam.

"O you who believe. Fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed to those before you that you may learn self-restraint." (Qur'an 2:183)

The Arabic word for fasting, sawm, means to refrain. During Ramadan the restraints encompass all bodily functions, including those associated with the mouth and ears. One should avoid speaking or listening to gossip, profanity, lying, slander, false oaths, and other such idle and inappropriate discourse. Muslims should always refrain from these acts, but especially so during Ramadan, when they are deemed more harmful, destroying the good that is obtained from fasting.

Ramadan is a period of inner reflection and spiritual renewal. Fasting is meant to focus a Muslim's thoughts on religious matters. Purity of thought and action through self-discipline and sacrifice are a means of spiritual cleansing and enlightenment that brings the person closer to God. This is consistent with teachings that stress the internal struggle within each individual to become a better human being.

Muslims believe fasting and withdrawal from worldly pleasures is a reminder that many people throughout the world live in poverty, often lacking basic necessities, including adequate food and water. By personally experiencing hunger and thirst, Muslims feel they are better able to understand the suffering of the poor. This teaches humility and empathy, encouraging generosity to those who are less fortunate. It also encourages appreciation and thankfulness for everything God has given them. Fasting is considered to be physically and spiritually healthy.

The pace of life changes during Ramadan. Muslims still go to work, school, and their regularly scheduled activities, but they are expected to devote a major part of the day to prayers and the Qur’an. Businesses throughout the Islamic world adjust their schedules, with many working shorter or staggered hours that end prior to dhuhr, the midday prayers. Some Muslims will go back to work after midday prayers, others will not.  During Ramadan, many stores and markets are closed in the afternoon, but do a flourishing business at night. Most restaurants will be closed during daylight hours.

I encourage everyone working with Muslims - in the United States or abroad - to go without food and drink from sunrise to sunset for at least one day. I suggest doing this at the start of Ramadan to better understand what Muslims are going through and how it affects their mind and body.

Salat (Prayer)

Salat, which means prayer, is the second of the Five Pillars of Islam. Muslims are required to pray five times a day, while facing the Ka’bah in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. These prayers, conducted after wudu, a ritualistic washing and purification, are meant to connect Muslims to Allah, while they ask for strength to lead a pure life in the face of temptation, forgiveness for past sins, and anything else that is on their mind.

Each of the five prayer times has a specified number of rakats (also called rakahs) that are required. These are the ritualistic recitations, prostrations, and movements.  Specifics of these prayers may vary slightly, but here are the basics of the five prayers.

Fajr is the morning prayer that takes place before sunrise.

Dhuhr/Zuhr is the noon or midday prayer after the sun passes the meridian.

Asr is the late afternoon prayer that takes place after Dhuhr and before sunset.

Maghrib takes place after sunset, but traditionally before darkness.

Isha takes place during the evening, after Maghrib and prior to midnight.

Daily Schedule for Ramadan

During Ramadan, most people will be up by 2:00 or 2:30 a.m., so they can have the morning meal, called suhoor, eaten before the call to prayer, which will occur at 4:35 a.m. in Mecca and 3:30 a.m. in Kabul the first day of Ramadan and 4:28 a.m. in Mecca and 3:15 a.m. in Kabul on the last day. Sunset is at 6:52 p.m. in Mecca and 6:49 p.m. in Kabul on the first day of Ramadan, and 7:04 p.m. in Mecca and 7:07 p.m. in Kabul the last day of Ramadan. Other countries will have similar schedules. During Ramadan, Muslim are not allowed to consume any liquids or food from morning prayer to after sunset.

People will often cook much of the morning meal the night before, but additional cooking and preparation will require some people to be up by 1:30 a.m. or earlier. After morning prayers some Muslims go back to sleep; others study the Qur’an or prepare for work. Schedules vary in different parts of the country and as the month progresses. 

Once the morning call to prayer occurs Muslims are encouraged to stay awake. They should not eat or drink anything else, even though the sun will not rise for another ninety minutes or so. Muslims will have nothing to drink or eat during the rest of the day, until after sunset, when expanded prayers may further postpone the evening meal. Ramadan is occurring during the start of summer this year. Muslims will be going without food or water for over fourteen hours a day during the month of Ramadan.

The prayer times for dhuhr, the midday prayer, are usually shown to be around noon in much of the world. However, Afghanistan and other countries usually have dhuhr prayers starting at 1:00 p.m. I suggest verifying the time of the midday prayer in the respective communities, so that schedules can be modified accordingly.

During Ramadan most Muslims want to go to the mosque to pray for at least thirty minutes, but some arrive early or stay late. They’ll need time to get to the mosque and complete the ritualistic washing prior to prayers. Try to finish meetings and visits at least one hour before dhuhr, by 10:45 a.m. in most areas.

At sunset, Muslims break the fast with a meal called iftar. In honor of the Prophet Muhammad, this usually consists of dates and water because it’s believed Muhammad would break his fast this way. Most Muslims follow up the ceremonial dates and water with a large meal eaten with family or friends. Muslim communities come alive with shopping and socializing once the sun has set. Many of the restaurants in large Muslim communities will feature iftar meals during Ramadan. Like the meals at home, the fast is traditionally broken with dates and water, before moving on to a variety of rich meats, assorted foods, and sweet desserts. Iftar meals are occasionally eaten in large groups

Many Muslims will provide iftar meals for the poor as a form of charity that is especially encouraged during Ramadan, Eid al-Fitr, and Eid al-Adha. After consuming a large evening meal, many Muslims will go back to the mosque for one to two hours of recitation and special prayers. Muslims are encouraged to read the Qur’an and listen to recitations during the month of Ramadan. In many mosques, the 114 surahs (chapters) of the Qur’an are divided into approximately thirty equal parts, with one part being recited each day of Ramadan. The Qur’an is arranged with the longest surahs in the front and the shortest towards the end, so considerations is given for page counts in dividing up the readings.

Lailat al-Qadr (Night of Power)

Lailat al-Qadr is translated as the Night of Power, the Night of Decree, the Night of Measures, or the Night of Glory. This is the time when Muslims believe the Prophet Muhammad received the first verses of the Qur’an from Allah, through the angel Gabriel. 

While the actual date of this event is unknown, most Muslims believe it occurred on an odd numbered night during the last ten days of Ramadan. This would include the 21st, 23rd, 25th, 27th, and 29th days of Ramadan, tentatively occurring June 5 to June 13, 2018. Being a lunar holiday, actual Gregorian calendar days may vary, depending upon when Ramadan actually begins in each respective community.

The last ten days are the most sacred period of Ramadan. During this time, Muslims try to come closer to God through prayer, good deeds, personal sacrifice, and purity of thought and deed. Most Sunnis observe Lailat al-Qadr on the 27th day of Ramadan and most Shi'ites on the 23rd day of Ramadan. 

Lailat al-Qadr will begin at sunset and continue until sunrise of the next day. In 2018, most Sunnis will celebrate it beginning on June 11, continuing until sunrise of the next day. Most Shi’ites will celebrate it beginning on June 7, 2018. These dates may vary, based upon when Ramadan starts in each respective community.

There are 73 sects or denominations within Islam, though this number is not universally agreed upon. Some of these sects recognize one of the other odd numbered days of Ramadan within the last ten days of Ramadan as being most significant. 

The first five verses of the 97th surah of the Qur'an, al-Qadr [Power, Fate] states the significance of Lailat al-Qadr. The words will vary with different translations.

In the name of Allah, the Almighty, the Merciful (1) We sent it down on the Night of Glory. (2) What will explain to you what the Night of Glory is? (3) The Night of Glory is better than a thousand months; (4) on that night the angels and the Spirit [the Angel Gabriel] descend again and again with their Lord’s permission on every task; (5) [there is] peace that night until the break of dawn.

Here is another translation for the first five verses of surah 97, al-Qadr.

97:1 We have indeed revealed this (Message) in the Night of Power.  97:2 And what will explain to thee what the night of power is?  97:3 The Night of Power is better than a thousand months.  97:4 Therein come down the angels and the Spirit by Allah's permission, on every errand.  97:5 Peace!  This until the rise of morn!

Many Muslims believe that good deeds performed on this night, reap rewards as if they were done for 1,000 months, the equivalent of 30,000 nights or 82 years.

Mosques will be open all night and many Muslims will spend most, or all of the night praying at home or in the mosque with the belief that the benefits of their prayers and deeds will be significantly greater than on any other night. Abd al-Salam said in his Qawa`id (Rules): "The good deed on that night is better than 30,000 good deeds on another."  The Prophet Muhammad said, “Anyone who stays awake for the Night of Power with belief and for the pleasure of Allah, all his previous sins will be forgiven.”

Lailat al-Qadr (Night of Power), from sunset until sunrise, is considered the most sacred night of the year. In addition to garnering extra merit for their prayers and good deeds on this date, many Muslims believe that special angels come down to earth, granting requests, performing good deeds, and making proclamations. Muslims believe that Allah and the angels will be most generous to those who stay awake all night, showering blessings, granting requests, or providing insight and guidance into specific problems and concerns.

Many Muslims will stay up all night to show devotion to God, confident in the purity of their heart and their standing within the community. Others, who believe themselves to be marginal Muslims, may appeal to God for guidance, mercy, and support. Many Muslims believe that visions and dreams that provide special guidance from Allah are more likely to occur during Ramadan, especially during the last ten days. 

For some Muslims, the Night of Power is a reminder of their failures – to their faith, their families, or to themselves.  This remorse is similar to what some people feel on New Year’s Eve when reflecting upon their life during the past year and to date. Some radicalized Muslims and new converts will strive to become martyrs during Lailat al-Qadr or Ramadan.

Regardless of motivation - redemption, revenge, or glory - jihadist predators will seek out radicalized or vulnerable men, disgraced women, and brainwashed children, encouraging them to the glory of martyrdom. A small number of misguided Muslims will look to fulfill their destiny by carrying out suicide missions.

I suggest a limited presence by Westerners - especially military and police - operating in Muslim communities in the United States and abroad. Nothing good will come from patrolling these areas during the Night of Power and the day after. At the least the patrols will disrupt prayers and services. At worst, they will be perceived as easy targets - delivered by Allah - for potential motivated or coerced martyrs.

Try to avoid becoming a target of opportunity during the two days of the Night of Power. The reduced presence of patrols will be much appreciated by Muslims who will be focused on staying up all night praying during the Night of Power. The next day they will be trying to make up for lost sleep. They will not want to see or hear from military, police, or other Western representatives.

Waging war during Ramadan is prohibited by the Qur’an. There are exceptions, noted in the second surah, verse 194 and verse 217, which terrorists and jihadists twist to encourage attacks and martyrdom during Ramadan. Ramadan has a bloody history of celebrated battles and carnage, dating back to its earliest days, through over 150 attacks that took place last year. The recent U.S., UK, French, and Israeli attacks on Syria will provide additional motivation for regional and global attacks and suicide bombings that target Westerns - military and civilian - and all other perceived enemies.  I will expand upon terrorist threats during Ramadan 2018 in a separate article and report.

Settling Disputes

The last ten days of Ramadan are a good time to settle disputes or forge a truce with or between leaders, groups, or tribes. Muslims consider this time to be the most blessed days in the most blessed month. Muslims are encouraged to resolve differences and forgive others. This is the best time of the year to apologize to individuals or groups for misunderstandings, regardless of who is at fault. Eid al-Fitr is also a good time for this.

Eid al-Fitr - Breaking the Fast - A Three Day Event

Ramadan usually ends after 29 or 30 days with the sighting of the new crescent moon. The holiday of Eid al-Fitr marks the end of fasting and begins on the first day of Shawwal, the tenth month in the Islamic lunar calendar. Eid al-Fitr is a combination of Arabic words that mean “festivity” and “breaking the fast.”

In 2018, Ramadan is anticipated to end at sunset on June 14th. The three day Eid al-Fitr festival is anticipated take place on Friday, June 15 through Sunday June 17, 2018. These dates may vary depending upon when Ramadan actually starts and ends, especially if it is determined by the local sighting of the new crescent moon. On June 14th, the new moon will only have a one percent illumination, rising at 4:57 a.m. and setting at 5:52 p.m. in Mecca. The sun will rise at 5:38 a.m. and set at 7:04 p.m.

Eid al-Fitr will officially begin with the breaking of the fast the night before the three day celebration. The next morning Muslims will get up early, pray, and eat a small meal to symbolize the end of Ramadan and the renewal of their spiritual self. This is a joyful, three day celebration of feasting and socializing with family, friends, relatives, and neighbors. It is the chosen time of the year for Muslims, who are working or living elsewhere, to travel  home, similar to Christmas travel in Western countries. Most work comes to a halt and many businesses will close. People will put on their best clothes, new ones if they can afford them.

Muslims are not supposed to celebrate Eid al-Fitr until they have paid at least a token amount to charity. Food, clothing, and money are donated to the poor. Muslim children often receive new clothes, money, and gifts. Eid al-Fitr reminds me of a combination of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and TET (Lunar New Year).

Eid al-Fitr is a good time for Western officials - government, military, police, and other representatives - to make donations to the poor, to mend personal relationships, and forge alliances in Muslim communities. 

I suggest donations for Eid al-Fitr celebrations and the poor be dropped off to villages and communities just prior to the end of Ramadan. Appropriate gifts include: food and essentials for the poor; candy and sweets for Eid al-Fitr; Qur’ans and prayer rugs for the mullahs, elders, and people of influence; and toys, candy, and clothing for the children.

Western military, law enforcement, and civilian representatives will be welcome to participate at Eid al-Fitr celebrations in some communities, but the level of local enthusiasm for these visits should be gauged prior to scheduling trips to Muslim communities. This does not mean that deployed units need to make an appointment that could compromise security, but make quiet inquires through trusted sources as to what elders and the community think about Western officials visiting during the three day celebration of Eid al-Fitr.

The month of Shawwal, which immediately follows Ramadan, is the time for six additional days of voluntary fasting. The fast during Ramadan is said to be equal to ten months of fasting and the six days during Shawwal equal to two months of fasting. Together, they provide Muslims with the spiritual rewards of fasting throughout the year.

Although Eid al-Fitr is always on the same day of the Islamic calendar, the date on the Gregorian calendar varies from year to year because it is a solar calendar, while the Islamic calendar is lunar. This means that Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr occurs about eleven days earlier on the Gregorian calendar than the prior year. The dates of Eid al-Fitr may vary from one area to another, depending upon when the crescent moon was sighted.

Eid al-Adha (Feast of the Sacrifice)

This celebration occurs approximately two months after Eid al-Fitr. This year, Eid al-Adha is projected to begin on, or about, sunset of August 20th or 21st, depending upon the location and methodology. Eid al-Adha occurs at or near the end of the Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca. It is usually celebrated over three to four days, but a few local traditions extend it. As with all lunar based holidays, the actual dates may vary.  

In 2018, the Hajj will take place on five days between August 19th and August 24th, depending upon the sighting of the moon. Many Muslims – good and bad – will add the word “Hajji” to the beginning of their name after they have completed the sacred Hajj, which is the fifth of the Five Pillars of Islam. The Hajj celebrates the triumphs and tribulations of Abraham. Eid al-Adha is another chance to socialize with family and friends.  It is a festive time, similar to Eid al-Fitr.

Arafat day, also called Arafah, tentatively begins at sunset on August 20 until sunset August 21, 2018. This is the second day of the Hajj when Muslims gather to stand on Mount Arafat/Arafah about 20 KM (12 miles) southeast of Mecca. This is to remind them of the Day of Resurrection when all people will stand to be judged. Mount Arafat is believed to be where Prophet Mohammad gave his farewell sermon. Muslim who do not attend the Hajj are encouraged to fast this day. Anyone working with Muslims this day should practice the same guidelines and suggestions provided for the Ramadan fast.

Eid al-Adha, which means the Feast of the Sacrifice, refers to Allah’s test of Abraham in demanding that he sacrifice his son to the Lord - a story that appears in the Qur’an, the Bible, and the Torah. In all three scriptures, Abraham bound his son and prepared to slay and sacrifice him as commanded, but is stopped at the last moment by God, who then provides Abraham with an animal to sacrifice, instead. 

While this story occurs in the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim scriptures, there is a slight variation. In the Bible and the Torah, Isaac is Abraham’s son being offered for sacrifice, while Muslim scholars believe the sacrificial son is Ishmael. 

Jews and Christians trace their roots back to Abraham, his wife Sarah, and their son, Isaac. Muslims also trace their lineage back to Abraham, referred to as Ibrahim in Islam, but believe they descend from Abraham, Hagar, and their son Ishmael. 

The origin of this split is explained in Genesis. Believing herself to be barren, Sarah offered Abraham her Egyptian slave girl servant, Hagar, to be his second wife or concubine. The specific role is unclear, since Hagar was a servant of Sarah’s, who was offered to Abraham to provide him with a child. While Jews of this time, practiced polygamy, the phrase, “taking her as his wife,’ may simply be a polite way of saying he had sexual intercourse with her. Abraham was said to be 86 years-old when Ishmael was born, and 100 years-old when Isaac was born of Sarah, 14 years after Ishmael.

Many Muslims will commemorate this event by sacrificing a sheep or other animal.  While the celebration goes on for three days, the sacrifices often go on for seven days.  Some wealthy individuals will sacrifice an animal every day.  Most of the meat from sacrifices is given away to others, with equal thirds going to A) family, B) friends, C) the poor.  This is a symbol of a person's willingness to give away possessions and follow the will of Allah. It is meant to encourage Muslims to share with family and friends, and to empathize and share with those less fortunate than themselves, which is also an objective in the fast of Ramadan and the celebration of Eid al-Fitr.

Eid al-Adha is another holiday that Islamists will encourage terrorist attacks. While these are often of a sectarian nature, with most attacks being against Shi'ites and Westerners, others are also at risk.

About the Author(s)

James Emery is a cultural anthropologist, who has covered insurgencies, terrorism, narcotics trafficking, corruption, and political events in Afghanistan and around the world for thirty years. He has worked with and against insurgencies, from making numerous trips into Afghanistan with the mujahideen during the Soviet occupation and working with tribal groups in Southeast Asia, to countering terrorists, insurgents, and narcotics traffickers in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. He provides training and research papers on Afghan, Arab, Asian, and African culture, issues, and events. He lectures on cultural anthropology, cross-cultural communication, Islam, strategic village programs, KLEs with positive and negative influencers, IO and PSYOP, COIN, counter-IED programs, narcotics trafficking, and other topics. For additional information about this report, or other topics, please contact James Emery at: