The holiest month in the Islamic calendar began Thursday night.
Muslims believe Allah (God) began revealing the Quran to the prophet Muhammad during Ramadan, the ninth month in the Islamic lunar calendar. It is a month of fasting in the Muslim faith, when adherents are expected to abstain from eating, drinking and sexual relations during daylight hours.
Muslims are also expected to think of less worldly affairs during the month, focusing on spiritual matters, personal reformation and enlightenment. Throughout the month Muslims also give to the needy.
Ramadan officially begins with the sighting of the waxing crescent moon in the night sky on the first day after the new moon. But some scholars have disagreed with how to best evaluate the sightings.
The moon is predicted to rise in southern New Jersey at 7:21 a.m. today, according to the U. S. Naval Observatory. A prominent group of Muslim scholars, the Fiqh Council of North America, have said that Ramadan would begin at sundown July 19 and end with the setting of the sun on Aug. 19, the start of the three-day Eid-ul-Fitr celebration.
Locally, preparations have been underway for several days at the Masjid Al-Taqwa mosque on Atlantic Avenue in Atlantic City’s Chelsea section.
Throughout the region, Muslim families have cleaned and decorated their homes in anticipation for the month, said Muhammad Ayub, secretary-general for the Muslim Community of South Jersey. “We clean our homes to show respect,” he said.
The mosque has similarly tidied up. About 200 to 300 people were expected at about 10 p.m. Thursday for the Isha, or evening prayers, that mark the start of Ramadan, said mosque member Riaz A. Rajput, 60, of Egg Harbor Township.
Members of the congregation spent recent days preparing for the month of fasting.
“They have been shopping or getting their stuff together” to start the fast at dawn. Throughout the month, Rajput said, they “basically spend time fasting and reading the holy book of the Quran as much as possible.”
The fast is broken with a meal at sundown called Iftar. Families typically invite five to ten people into their home for the meal. The mosque holds its Iftar, Rajput said, inviting students or people without local families ties, to break the fast with other Muslims. About 130 people typically attend at the mosque.
Ayub said this year would be the first time the Muslim Community Organization of South Jersey would use the community center it established on English Creek Avenue in Egg Harbor Township during Ramadan.
The organization bought the 12-acre site for $705,000 from the township, including the former John Couchoud Community Center and the historic McKee City No. 6 school. Both had been empty since 2008.
There were about 1.3 million Muslims living in America in 2008, according to the U.S. Census’ American Religious Identification Survey, the latest available figures.
These figures marked a 22 percent increase from 2001 and a 156 percent increase from 1990.
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