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THE HUMAN FACE OF RAMADAN

For many of the world’s 1.8 billion muslims, the month of Ramadan represents an opportunity to try to partially detach themselves from the world and devote themselves to fasting, reciting the Koran, prayer and acts of charity. Each year, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) holds a photography contest around the theme of “The Human Face of Ramadan”. The contest starts on the first day of Ramadan and ends after the festival of Eid al-Fitr. Here and on the following pages are just a few of our favourite photographs we selected from the entries the OIC received last year.

Ramadan, the ninth month of the lunar calendar, began this year on May 15 and will end on the evening of June 14. Each new lunar month begins when the first crescent of a new moon is seen. The lunar year is ten or eleven days shorter than the solar year and has no leap days, weeks or months, which is why Ramadan moves around the solar calendar. In 2017, for example, Ramadan began on May 26 and ended on the evening of June 24.

Fasting is one of the five pillars of a muslim’s faith. The others are the personal testimony of belief, prayer, giving a percentage of your wealth to charity and making the pilgrimage to Mecca. Muslims believe the first revelation of the Koran was given to the prophet Mohamed on the night preceding the 27th day of Ramadan which the Koran calls the “night of power”.Other traditions say it was revealed on one of the five odd nights of the last ten days of the month. The prophet was reported to have told his followers that from that time on, the gates of heaven would stay open for the month, the gates of hell would be closed and devils would be “put in chains”. He is also reported to have said that the rewards for fasting for the month would be multiplied.

The fast continues during daylight hours from dawn until sunset during which time muslims are required to refrain from consuming food, drinking liquids, smoking, and having sex with their spouses. They’re also instructed to refrain from behavior that might negate the reward of fasting, such as lying, cursing, insulting, backbiting and unwarranted aggression. Fit and able-bodied adults and older children are expected to fast, but young children, elderly people, the weak and mentally ill are exempt. Pregnant or breastfeeding women, anyone who is sick and anyone travelling on a journey are also exempt. Women who are on their periods are not expected to fast but may make up the missed days at a later date. Fasting can be invalidated by eating or drinking at the wrong time, but the lost day can be made up with an extra day of fasting. For anyone who becomes ill during the month or for whom travel is required, extra fasting days may be substituted after Ramadan ends. Volunteering, performing righteous works, or feeding the poor can be substituted for fasting, if necessary.

The fast begins shortly before sunrise when, as the Koran says, “the white thread of light becomes distinguishable from the dark thread of night” In some countries,bells are rung in the pre-dawn hours to remind others that it is time for “suhur”,a light meal taken before the first prayer of the day. In some countries such as Egypt, a man called a “musaharati” walks neighbourhood streets lightly beating a drum and calling people to wake up for the meal. The fast ends when the call is given for the sunset prayer, the fourth prayer of the day, and a meal called “iftar” is shared in homes with family and friends, in mosques or in the streets where poorer people can eat at communal tables set up by charitable organizations or individuals. The iftar may often begin with dates, fruit juice or sweetened milk followed by a main course and dessert.

In addition to fasting, Muslims are encouraged to read the entire Koran which can be done by themselves at home or recited at additional prayers offered at night called the “taraweeh” prayers, preferably performed in congregation at the mosque,during which a whole section, about 1/30 of the Koran, is recited. In this way, the entire Koran can be completed by the end of the month. Although it is not required to recite the whole Koran in the taraweeh prayers, it is common practice.

To add to the festivities of the month, lights are often strung up on mosques, in public squares and across city streets. In a growing number of countries, decorative and colourful lanterns which are believed to have originated during the Fatimid period, primarily in Egypt, are hung up in shopping malls, places of business, and people’s homes, much to the delight of the children.

To celebrate the completion of thirty days of fasting, the first day of the next lunar month, Shawwal, is marked with the holiday of Eid al-Fitr or the “Festival of Breaking Fast”. Eid al-Fitr begins with the special Eid prayer performed in congregation in mosques, community centers, streets, fields and other open spaces. In some countries, Eid alFitr may continue for several days and is quite elaborate: children wear new clothes, special pastries are baked, gifts are exchanged, the graves of relatives are visited, and people gather in homes for meals. Eid-al-Fitr should not be confused with Eid al-Adha, the other major religious holiday of the Muslim calendar. Eid al-Adha or the “Festival of Sacrifice”, which will begin this year on August 21 and end on the evening of August 25 marks the end of the hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca,that all Muslims are expected to perform at least once in their lives if they are financially and physically able to do so.

This year’s entries for the OIC contest are being published on the OIC website and social media platforms throughout the month of Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr. An OIC special jury will select ten winners who will each be sponsored for “umrah”to Mecca and a visit to the prophet’s mosque in Madinah. For more information on the contest and how to participate visit, www.oic-oci.org.