June 28, 2014, will mark the beginning of Ramadan, a month-long holiday observed by Muslims. Legal professionals often interact with Muslims as employees, clients, or courtroom visitors and may not be aware of what Ramadan entails.
Ramadan is a time for spiritual renewal, a time for reflection about deeds done during the past year and an opportunity to break bad habits. Muslims are encouraged to spend as much time in worship as possible without sacrificing their daily responsibilities. The pangs of hunger felt during fasting are intended to remind the fasting person of the struggles and challenges of the poor and needy. For some, fasting also offers the opportunity to undergo an annual physical detoxification program to rejuvenate the mind and body. Special nightly prayers are intended to rejuvenate the spirit.
Ramadan is also a time to take a break from the hectic nature of the daily routine. Muslims spend more time with loved ones and give back to the community through service and charitable giving. They make special efforts to gather together for Iftaar (the time for breaking fast) with family and friends. Many will donate more of their time and money to charitable causes in Ramadan.
Illinois’ Muslims have added another component to Ramadan. In 2009, the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago launched a campaign called Green Ramadan, to raise awareness about the environment. In 2011, the Illinois House of Representatives passed the Green Ramadan resolution, which designates the month of Ramadan as “a Green Month in the State of Illinois in order to promote awareness among faith communities about environmental issues, the reduction of carbon production, and the reduction of wasted water.”
The following answers to frequently asked questions are intended to help legal professionals better prepare for meetings with Muslim clients and employees during Ramadan:
• Fasting in Ramadan is from pre-dawn to sunset every day of the month. Children, the elderly, those who are sick or traveling, and women who are pregnant, nursing or have their menstrual period are not required to fast. It is possible, therefore, that you may see a Muslim person eating and drinking in Ramadan.
• All forms of food and drink are prohibited while fasting. Nothing may be consumed.
• Muslims may seek time off work during the last 10 days of Ramadan, considered the most intense period of worship by many.
• Ramadan is the ninth of twelve months in the lunar Islamic calendar. In a lunar calendar, each month begins with the sighting of the new crescent moon. In marked contrast to the solar calendar’s 365 days, a lunar year is 354 days long. Consequently, each date on the lunar calendar falls about 10 to 11 days earlier, relative to the solar calendar, with each succeeding year. For instance, in the year 2004, Ramadan began around October 16, while in 2014, it is expected to begin on June 28, a change of more than 3 months in just a decade. Thus, Ramadan falls in different seasons in different years.
• Advances in technology allow astronomers to accurately predict the birth of the new moon, even if it is not visible in the night sky. Some Muslims accept this method (referred to as the calculation method) for identifying the beginning and ending of religious holidays. The more conventional approach, however, mandates that the new moon be observed without artificial aids by at least two witnesses. The latter method means that a religious observance cannot begin until the moon has been sighted in the night sky. Two Muslim employees can legitimately request a different day off from each other depending on the method adopted to identify the beginning of the holiday.
• Ramadan ends with the Eid-ul-Fitr holiday. This is the most festive religious holiday of the year for Muslims. It typically begins with a morning congregational worship service, followed by a day full of family gatherings, exchange of Eid gifts, and, of course, lots of special holiday foods. Many Muslim legal professionals take the day off to observe the holiday. Be sure to bring your appetite if you are invited to an Eid party!
• Evening meetings and gatherings may be difficult for Muslims to manage in Ramadan. Fasting has no impact on meetings held during the daytime.
Happy Ramadan 2014! ■