Muslim Customs & Ramadan Primer

Imam Sharif Mohamed, spiritual leader of the Islamic Civic Society of America/Dar Al-Hijrah Mosque in Cedar-Riverside and Fairview Hospital chaplain and Wali Dirie, Exective Director, ISCA/Dar Al-Hijrah are spearheading this event with Rabbi Latz. They came to Shir Tikvah on April 19, 2017 to share about Ramadan customs. Here is a bit of what they taught:

About Ramadan

  • Ramadan is the ninth month of the Muslim Islamic calendar and lasts 29-30 days, depending on the year.
  • Muslims believe that the Qur’an was revealed to them by Muhammad during Ramadan.
  • During Ramadan, the gates of heaven are opened and the gates of hell are closed. The purpose of the holy month is to remember G-d, bring consciousness, patience, empathy, sacrifice and humility.
  • Muslims do not adjust their calendar like Jews do, by adding an extra month every few years, to keep it more or less in synch with the Gregorian solar calendar (Jews do this so that agricultural and harvest holidays will fall during the right time of year). As a result, the beginning of Ramadan can move up to 11 or 12 days a year. The fasting obligation is especially onerous when Ramadan falls during long summer days.
  • Ramadan starts when the new moon is sighted, which leads to a bit of discrepancy for Muslims around the world (does that sound familiar?).
  • During Ramadan, Muslims are encouraged to pray and give charity (sadaqa/zakat). During daily evening services at mosques, imams recite the Qur’an from memory (one section each night). All 114 chapters of the Qur’an are recited during Ramadan.
  • The last 10 days of Ramadan are the holiest, with more prayer and more visits to the mosque.
  • June 7, 2017 corresponds with the 12th day of Ramadan.


  • During Ramadan, Muslims fast (abstain from eating, drinking and sexual activity) from dawn until sunset every day.
  • Fasting (Sawm) is the fourth of the five pillars of Islam [the other pillars are: Hajj: a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in their life; Zakat: giving to the poor; Salat: five-time daily prayer facing Mecca; and Shalada: declaration of belief in one true G-d].
  • Exempt from fasting: the elderly, the ill, children, and pregnant or lactating women. The latter are encouraged to fast at a later time, when they can. If the ill are financially able, they are encouraged to provide charity to feed a poor person for every day they abstain from fasting.
  • Children are exempt, but “practice” for many years by fasting for periods that increase in length over time. Most Muslims believe that by age 15 both boys and girls should be as responsible as an adult for fasting and prayer.
  • The meal before the beginning of the fast is called suhoor (and depending on when dawn is, Muslims may have to arise at 3:00 a.m. to prepare it) and the meal after sunset is called Iftar. Rabbi pointed out that that means that not only are Muslims hungry for an entire month, but they’re sleepy too!
  • The end of Ramadan is marked by the Eid al-Fitr festival of breaking the fast, which is celebrated by wearing one’s best clothes, giving gifts, having a large meal, and spending time with one’s family.
  • Muslims often break the fast with water and dates, a short prayer (the Maghrib prayer) and then the Iftar meal.

Good Hosting

  • Host women do not need to cover their hair.
  • Attire should be dressy and modest; no shorts or short skirts; shoulders covered.
  • Some Muslim men will shake hands with women, others will not. If you are a woman, let men approach you with a hand outstretched if they wish. If you extend your hand first, a man may shake it to be polite even if he would rather not. Instead keep your hand on your heart as a sign of greeting.
  • Men and women can be seated together at dinner.
  • Some appropriate greetings:

“As-Salaam-Alaikum,” the Arabic greeting meaning, "Peace be unto you.

Reply is: “Wa-Alaikum-Salaam,” meaning, “Unto you, peace.

“Minaku Menankiina Waayeh,” Somali for “my house is your house.
Arabic version: “Al Bay-tu- bay-tu come

Soo Dhowaada.” - Welcome.”

  • Imam Sharif and Wali both stressed that we as a congregation do not have to feel that we have to make special efforts and accommodations, that they are delighted to come and want to “take us as we are” in a spirit of learning, openness and sharing.
  • The Islamic Civic Society of America/Dar Al-Hijrah Mosque plans to welcome Shir Tikvah to a Chanukah meal this December.
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