Muslims in Cincinnati and around the world began their observance of the holy month of Ramadan on Saturday. It actually started Friday night at sundown but fasting didn't begin until Saturday.
For the next 29 or 30 days, more than 1.3 billion people, or 23 percent of the world’s population, plan to take part in the religious practice of fasting from pre-dawn to dusk each day.
Because the beginning of Islamic lunar months depends on the actual sighting of the new moon, the start and end dates for Ramadan vary from year to year.
Ramadan is considered the holiest month of the Islamic calendar and commemorates the revelation of the Holy Qur’an to the Prophet Muhammad.
“Each night during Ramadan the prayer services include a reading from the Qur'an, which equals out to about 1/30th of it so an equal portion is read each night,” according to Karen Dabdoub, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Cincinnati (CAIR-Cincinnati).
While the number of religious adherents in Cincinnati is considerably smaller than in other parts of the world, somewhere between 35,000 to 45,000 local Muslims plan to take part, Dabdoub said.
Even though the number can’t be accurately measured due to a restriction on religion-based questions on the census, Dabdoub believes the number of Muslims in the region has increased in recent years due in part to an influx of refugees.
“The city’s Muslim population has increased by 5,000 to 15,000 people in the last 15 years,” she said. “I think that because six or seven years ago because of the West African population was up to 15,000.”
Three of the most important nights are the Hilāl (typically a day (or more) after the astronomical new moon), the "Feast of Breaking the Fast" at the end of Ramadan (Eid al-Fitr) and the “Night of Power,” the holiest night of the year.
Laylat al-Qadr, which in Arabic means "the night of power" or "the night of decree," is the night in which Muslims believe the first revelation of the Quran was sent down to Muhammad. Muhammad said the night was better than 1,000 months of proper worship, to paraphrase Chapter 97:3 of the Qur'an.
Although some days are considered more spiritually significant than others, each day of Ramadan begins with a pre-dawn meal before the fast, the suhoor. The day ends with breaking fast at sunset called the iftar.
Even though most practices consist of the same fundamental elements of prayer, fasting and charity, the diversity of the global Muslim population makes it impossible to describe typical suhoor or iftar meals.
That’s especially true in Cincinnati where there’s a richness of cultures practicing Islam, many of whom observe under the same roof due to the make up of the city's Muslim population.
“In Cincinnati, the Muslim community especially is very ethnically diverse, in terms of ethnicity or nation of origin,” said Dabdoub.
That’s partially because of the diversity of neighborhoods and a limited number of mosques in the Greater Cincinnati area.
Two of the most prominent are in West Chester and The Clifton Mosque, also know as the Islamic Association of Cincinnati, which serves as a hub for various Muslims in the community.
“The diversity does create some challenges in that, when you’ve got people in one house of worship, different sets of teachings,"Dabdoub said.
While most of the basics are all the same, the differences come in the details.
“There are minor details of how we pray, observe," Dabdoub said. “We have to ask ourselves how do we negotiate those differences and still maintain harmony in the community.”
But that’s a small price to the unique experience the ethnic diversity can provide.
“The diversity provides a richness of experiences because there are different types of cuisines and languages from all over the world,” Dabdoub said. “But the kids who were born and raised here so it’s kind of a uniquely American Ramadan experience.”
And it’s not just unique to the Muslim community.
Dabdoub says many local mosques and Islamic centers will be happy to invite you to take part in breaking fast and various activities for sharing Ramadan with friends and neighbors.
The Clifton Mosque hosts a dinner each night of Ramadan. People of all religions are more than welcome to come to it and dine with us. Just let people at the mosque know that they’re coming because the events are usually very popular.
Dinner is served every night at about 9 p.m. Anywhere between 100 to 150 people take part in the meals each night of the work week, and even more show up for weekend dinners.
The outreach is thanks in part to local Muslim families who sponsor the dinners.
"The families just love sharing their faith with a community. It's a real honor to these families and the community really appreciates them for it," Dabdoub said.
One of the questions people who aren’t familiar with Ramadan or Islam might ask is why is there a need to fast.
Muslims believe that God proclaimed to Muhammad that fasting is an obligation practiced by those truly devoted
to the oneness of God.
But the decision to take part in the practice is a personal one. In the past some athletes and people who have to perform physical labor outdoors have been known to break fast out of necessity.
"(Fasting) is one of the Five Pillars of Islam and certainly a fundamental part of our faith," Dabdoub said. “But it’s really a personal decision. It’s a very important decision that every person has to make on their own."
The Five Pillars make up Muslim life, prayer, concern for the needy, self purification and the pilgrimage.
Ramadan is also a time of introspection and increased spiritual devotion, so Muslims also engage in increased prayer and charity over the course of the month.
Special prayer services begin each night at about 10:45 p.m. local time, after the last prayer of the day. The service will begin at 11 p.m.
CAIR-Cincinnati is a chapter of America's largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization. Its mission is to enhance the understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.