Just as Christians and Jews struggled to celebrate major holidays during the Covid-19 pandemic, now Muslims are going through their second Ramadan unable to gather safely.
I have been hanging around with Muslims, intentionally, since 2002. I knew a few Muslims before that. I knew more people whose families were Muslim a generation or two back; only some stray cultural heritage remained. When everything changed in 2001, I made a conscious effort to meet and understand people who practice Islam. My intention was to find out how Islam helps people live better lives within those practices. When American culture was painting a whole religion as evil, I needed to arm myself with some first-hand knowledge. My ticket in was a woman’s book group model called Daughters of Abraham.
Here is a link about Ramadan, written by Muslims for a non-Muslim audience. Much of what is on that page are things I learned along the way by creating sustainable relationships with Muslim people. Over the years, I have been to Muslim mosque events, bridal showers, baby showers, graduation parties, and Iftar dinners.
Being Jewish helps me understand some things about being Muslim
When is that holiday?
It confuses my Christian friends that Passover (Pesach) and New Year (Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur) do not happen on a repeating day on the Christian (Gregorian) calendar. This is because the Hebrew calendar is still used to calculate these holidays. The Hebrew calendar is lunar, so every month is roughly 28-29 days instead of the 30 or 31 on the Gregorian calendar. So, the Hebrew year falls short of the 365 days we are used to from the Gregorian calendar. The Hebrew calendar keeps the months of the year in alignment with the seasons by adding a leap month into the cycle to make up for the shortfall in days of the year.
The Muslim calendar is lunar, too. However, they do not add leap months or even leap days. Every year is about 11 days shorter than the 365 that gets the Gregorian calendar close to seasonally consistent (with leap days every four years). This -11 days a year creates a dimension to time and holidays that is missing from both Jewish and Christians perspectives. Holidays move around the calendar – Ramadan is not a spring, summer, winter, or fall holiday. Every 33 years or so, it rolls back around to where it was, seasonally.
When I first started participating in Iftar dinners — the meal at the end of daily fasts during Ramadan–the holiday was falling in the autumn. Muslims in the Boston area could have breakfast before dawn at 6 or 6:30 in the morning and have dinner after sunset at 5:30 or 6 PM. Ramadan coincided with Christmas in 2000. Then, a few years later, with Thanksgiving, then with the Jewish New Year, then Tisha B’Av (a Jewish mourning holiday, usually in August), and then into the heart of long days of summer. Remember -11 days every year, more or less.
As the years went by, I heard talk about how Ramadan was headed into summer. Things that I wouldn’t hear about season-static holidays. “I was in college last time I fasted in the summer!” “These are my kids’ first fast, and they are starting in the long part of the year.”
This year, Ramadan runs from the new moon — which was last week, April 12 — until the next new moon, expected May 12th. It will get back to coinciding with Christmas again in 2030. Here’s a calendar.
The confusion about when our holiday happens and what we need to do as minority religious women is something that Muslims and Jews have in common. I plan months in advance to avoid deadlines right in the middle of major holidays. This is not the Christian experience, since the American economy does cartwheels in anticipation of Christmas, and somewhat for Easter. No one asks, “When is Christmas?” Because it is always the same date.
Rarely do people forget about Easter, either. Easter is a lunar holiday, too. It falls on the Sunday after the full moon that occurs after the Spring Equinox. How do you know when Easter is coming?
- Look at a moon chart, find the full moon after the equinox.
- Google Easter and the current year
- Go the CVS and see piles of chocolate and bunnies everywhere.
Ramadan Mubarak (Blessed Ramadan!) to all my Muslim friends, and any Muslims reading this.