Updated with a correction at 12:45 p.m.
As the sun rises, the first day of Ramadan will begin a 30-day long fast for Muslims in which they control temptations and remove material goods from their lives.
"If you look at any mammal, the core instinct you have is hunger," said Shafath Syed, former president of the South Bay Islamic Association. "We believe that there are many temptations in life, and if you can control your most basic instinct, which is to eat, then it’s quite easy for you to control temptation."
Ramadan, or scorching" in Arabic, is the ninth month of the Arabian calendar. To Muslims and non-Muslims alike in the South Bay and around the world, the month signifies an important time for physical and mental purification by removing material needs.
After the Quran was revealed to Prophet Muhammad in 610 C.E., Ramadan was established as a Holy Month for Muslims. Comprising one of the five pillars of Islam, Ramadan is sawm, or a "ritual fast" in Arabic.
"Ramadan is about boosting your faith," said Syed. "It’s about disciplining your body and your mind."
Imagine you usually exercise five days of the week, but for some reason you haven’t worked out all week. The first time you go back to the gym you feel kind of sluggish, but then you feel rejuvenated after. This is the comparison that Syed made to Ramadan. It helps Muslims rejuvenate and enliven their faith.
During Ramadan, Muslims and non-Muslims fast from dawn to sunset. Not only do they fast from food and water, but also from smoking and sexual intercourse.
Non-Muslims also participate in Ramadan. Rob Davis, former police chief of San Jose, wanted to learn what being Muslim was like and practiced the traditions.
"Davis simply said he would fast with us," said Syed. "We assumed it would be for a day and he surprised us by fasting the whole month."
Before the sun rises, Muslims eat a predawn meal called suhur. After the sun sets, they eat iftar to break the fast. The post-dawn meal often starts with eating dates, practicing the rites that Prophet Muhammad followed.
Syed said that Muslims break their fast with dates partially because it’s what has been done for 1,400 years, but also because the body needs the sugar component after not eating for more than 15 hours.
The South Bay Islamic Association has a daily iftar at the mosque in downtown San Jose around 8:30 p.m. Every Saturday the community iftar attracts around 350 people. The association serves dates, milk and fruit to break the fast, followed by prayer and dinner.
Because people need to pray after they break their fast, families typically prepare dinner at home instead of going to a restaurant. Embracing the communal aspect of Ramadan, some Muslims host friends and family in their home for a group iftar.
By removing any focus on material goods including food and water, the emphasis is on self-sacrifice. Throughout Ramadan, Muslims fully devote themselves to the service of God.
As the Quran states, "Allah intends for you ease and does not intend for you hardship and [wants] for you to complete the period to glorify Allah for that [to] which He had guided you."
Fasting helps Muslims experience empathy with the hungry. Although it is not required, they often support the poor by raising money, donating or holding iftar dinners for those less fortunate.
"The logic behind fasting is that there are millions and millions of people in this world that don’t have food, yet we take food for granted," said Syed. "If you don’t know what it’s like to be without food, you don’t know what it’s like to be poor. It’s all about being able to relate to people without food."
On August 19, Eid-ul-Fitr, or the "feast of the fast breaking," marks the end of Ramadan. Muslims celebrate with prayers and a large community feast.
The South Bay Islamic Association is holding its annual Eid-ul-Fitr on August 19 at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds. The morning Eid prayer will be followed by food and entertainment.
Although most Muslims consider it mandatory, some groups of people don’t fast such as pregnant or breastfeeding mothers, children who have not gone through puberty, travelers, and those who are sick or at health risk.
To greet someone who is fasting, say Ramadan Mubarek or Ramadan Kareem which mean "Have a Blessed or Generous Ramadan."
View praying timetables for mosques near you:
- South Bay Islamic Association, 325 N. 3rd St., San Jose
- West Valley Muslim Association, 12370 Saratoga Sunnyvale Road, Saratoga
- Muslim Community Association, 3003 Scott Blvd., Santa Clara
To find halal restaurants and places to purchase halal products, visit the website Zabihah.
Correction: The word "alcohol" has been removed from the list of things Muslims refrain from doing during Ramadan. Muslims aren't supposed to don't drink alcohol ever.