Friday May 26 marked the start of Ramadan, a period of fasting, prayer and contemplation for millions of Muslims. For 29 days, many of those Muslims will fast between dawn and dusk in what is considered the holiest day of the Islamic calendar. The Prophet Mohammed explained: “When the month of Ramadan starts, the gates of heaven are opened and the gates of Hell are closed and the devils are chained.”
Fasting during Ramadan is one of the five pillars — or duties — of Islam, along with the testimony of faith, prayer, charitable giving, and making pilgrimage to Mecca. The practice of fasting serves several spiritual and social purposes: to remind you of your human frailty and your dependence on God for sustenance, to show you what it feels like to be hungry and thirsty so you feel compassion for (and a duty to help) the poor and needy, and to reduce the distractions in life so you can more clearly focus on your relationship with God.
Muslims are also supposed to try to curb negative thoughts and emotions like jealousy and anger, and even lesser things like swearing, complaining, and gossiping, during the month. Some people may also choose to give up or limit activities like listening to music and watching television, often in favor of listening to recitations of the Quran.
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