Culture
6:00 am
Wed July 10, 2013

Ramadan starts today for Muslims in North America

I was traveling in Indonesia when I first experienced Ramadan. I was wondering why so many people at the McDonald's in Surabaya were sitting at the table, wrappers open, waiting to eat their Big Macs.

It was the holy month of Ramadan, and they were waiting until just after sunset - for the iftar - the meal that breaks the day-long fast.

The holy month of Ramadan started yesterday for many around the world, but here in North America, Ramadan starts today. The Christian Science Monitor reports the exact start of Ramadan is often up in the air until the last moment because it's marked by a sighting of the new moon.

Many places still depend on someone seeing the new moon with the naked eye in order to declare the holiday. As a result, Ramadan’s start can vary from place to place because of weather conditions and other factors that affect how easily the moon is seen. 

However, countries are increasingly relying on astronomical calculations and observatories, leading to a more uniform start time.

During Ramadan, Muslims try to break bad habits, attend prayers and read the Qur'an.

But fasting, no food or drink during the daylight hours, is the big commitment many Muslims try to keep.

Here's more on why Muslims fast during Ramadan from the BBC:

Fasting is intended to help teach Muslims self-discipline, self-restraint and generosity. It also reminds them of the suffering of the poor, who may rarely get to eat well.

It is common to have one meal (known as the suhoor), just before sunrise and another (known as the iftar), directly after sunset.

Because Ramadan is a time to spend with friends and family, the fast will often be broken by different Muslim families coming together to share in an evening meal.

For non-Muslims wishing to support Muslim friends and family members during this time, the Huffington Post has this advice:

Those wishing to be polite to someone who is fasting for Ramadan may greet them with Ramadan Mubarak or Ramadan Kareem, which means Have a Blessed or Generous Ramadan.

*This post has been updated