Although many Muslims follow the Western solar or Gregorian calendar for everyday purposes, all Muslims use the lunar Hijiri calendar to determine Islam’s holy days and holidays. The Hijiri year has 12 months of 29 or 30 days each (depending on the moon), and thus is 11 days shorter than the Gregorian year. This means that these dates are out of sync with Gregorian dates. The two calendars coincide only every 33 years. Muslim holy days can last from one day to as long as a full month.
Weekly Holy Day
The Muslim weekly day of rest is Friday. It begins at sundown on Thursday (when one can no longer distinguish between a black thread and a white one held on the back of the hand) and lasts until sundown on Friday. Muslims observe this day much as Christians do Sunday and Jews their Saturday Sabbath.
Ramadan is the month in which the Koran was revealed, and is celebrated in the ninth month of the Hijiri calendar. Observance is mandated in the Koran. The purpose of the fast is to honor the Faith and acquire merit through self-discipline. Bad behavior (lying, speaking ill of someone, greed, envy, swearing falsely) during this time is especially offensive, and can undo all benefit gained by fasting. For the full 29 days of the month, devout Muslims do not eat, drink or smoke at all during the daylight hours. Travelers and the sick who cannot or should not fast at this time may do so at another time. This practice of self-denial is also found in Christians who observe the 40 days and nights of Lent.
Eid al-Fitr is one of the two festivals prescribed in the Koran. It begins immediately after the fast of Ramadan ends, on the first day of the following month, and lasts for about two weeks. Parties, family visiting and gifts are in order, and this festival has been likened in spirit to the Christian season of Christmas/New Year’s.
The second of the Koranic festivals is the three-day Eid al-Adha, the Feast of Sacrifice, which comes at the end of the season Hajj, during which the pilgrimage to Mecca should be made at least once in every lifetime. The “sacrifice” is the near-sacrifice by Abraham of his son at God’s command. Abraham (known to Muslims as Ibrahim) converted his people from pagan idolatry to the worship of one god, and is revered as a prophet in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. His willingness to sacrifice his son is viewed as an example of complete submission to the will of God, which is the meaning of the word Islam and an article of faith to Muslims.
Other Special Days
There are many other days of special religious significance in Islam, such as Muharram, the Islamic New Year, and Ashura, the celebration of Moses and the Exodus. Some are particular to either Shi’ah or Sunni, the two branches of Islam. There is also Arafat or Unity Day (nothing to do with the former Palestinian leader). On this day, Muslims are enjoined to gather at the foot of Mount Arafat on the borders of Turkey and Iran, where the Prophet Muhammad preached his final sermon, as part of the Hajj rituals.
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