Ramadan is the ninth and holiest month of the Muslims’ calendar year. It was during that month that Muslims believe the Quran was revealed. Unlike other months, during Ramadan, Muslims spend extra time reading the Quran and performing special prayers. Nightly prayers, called Taraweeh, are common as is rereading the Quran over the course of the month.

Abdikadir Negeye

Ramadan highlights Muslim brotherhood and customs and brings about a special feeling of closeness and blessings. The practice of charity is one of Islam’s five pillars. Many Muslims give charity to poor and needy people to get good deeds as exchange. Normally, Ramadan lasts 29 or 30 days depending on the moon. It is broken down into three parts — the first 10 days, second 10 days and the third 10 days. Toward the end of the last 10 days, Muslims hunt for Laylat al-Qadr or the Night of Power. On that night, which falls on one of the last 10 nights of Ramadan, Muslims practice intense worship as they pray for answers and seek forgiveness for all their sins. That night has the power of 83-plus years of worship. People are encouraged to do nonstop prayers, read the Quran and spend more time at the mosques.

During Ramadan, Muslims fast from food and drink from sunrise to sunset. Fasting is used as a means to learn self-control and followers must be on their best behavior while having compassion for those less fortunate. Pregnant or nursing women, the sick, elderly people and children are exempt from fasting; however, some children start fasting at a young age with supervision and guidance of their parents. A pre-fast meal, called the sahoor, may be taken before 3:30 a.m., local time. After 3:30 a.m., the fasting starts and people will refrain from water and food.

The day’s fasting is broken with a meal called the iftar. The iftar is a special social time where extended families, friends and communities gather to eat, sometimes at the mosques as well. It is common for mosques to host large iftars, especially for the poor and needy. Lately, hosting iftar has become more recognized and traditional in government offices such as the White House, the governor’s office, mayor’s office, etc. This Ramadan brought a historic first for Maine Muslims as Gov. Janet Mills hosted Muslims’ first iftar in the Blaine House.

Many non-Muslims ask whether it is OK for them to eat in front of people who are fasting. I would say that is it totally OK to eat in front of those who are fasting and continue having business as usual. Non-Muslim friends are always welcome to join us at iftar time as well.

A lot of people think that, during Ramadan, people lose weight; that is not accurate. Some people even gain weight during Ramadan because they eat too much Iftar and they don’t do a lot of activities.

During Ramadan, Muslim women work tirelessly making all the food to feed the whole family and friends after the day’s fasting. Sometimes they even cook for elderly neighbors or volunteer to prepare iftar for the mosque for a day or two. They spend hours and hours making Sambousa, a common food, but making it is not an easy job. Other popular foods are dates, rice, anjera and milawax — more like a soft pancake. The food is delicious, but takes a lot of hard work and time to prepare.

At the end of Ramadan, Muslims celebrate Eid-al-Fitr, this year on Wednesday, June 5. The whole community comes together to perform morning prayers, give gifts to children and the poor and exchange greetings such as “Eid Mubarak,” which translates to “happy holidays.”

Abdikadir Negeye was born in Somalia and lived in two refugee camps in Kenya before resettling in the United States in 2006. He moved to Maine for a safer place to live, for better education and to reconnect with families and friends. He is the co-founder and assistant director of Maine Immigrant and Refugee Services, an organization that educates and assists immigrant and refugee youth and their families and promotes a pathway toward citizenship and community engagement. He is a resident of Lewiston.


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