Ramadan 2010 USA started Wednesday as Muslims from Miami to Mecca began the month-long fast to mark what they believe was Allah's revelation of the Koran 14 centuries ago. This is the first time in nearly 30 years that Ramadan, whose timing depends on the lunar calendar, has corresponded with the hot summer months of the Gregorian calendar.
In addition to the heat, Muslims – who now comprise roughly a quarter of humanity – face unique challenges and perks depending on whether they’re celebrating in America, Arab countries, or as far north as the Arctic Circle:
In Jerusalem, considered the third holiest city in Islam, West Bank Palestinians will be allowed to visit the Temple Mount compound without permits. But there’s a catch to visiting the area, which is home to the Al Aqsa Mosque and the iconic golden Dome of the Rock: Men must be over age 50 and women over the age of 45. For married individuals, the age limit drops to 45 and 30, respectively.
Many Muslims in Morocco will be forced to congregate in makeshift tents after the government announced this week that it is closing 1,256 mosques. The move came after the religious affairs ministry inspected nearly 20,000 mosques for safety standards in the wake of a minaret’s collapse that killed 41 people in February.
Indonesia ushered in the holy month by banning pornographic websites, prostitutes, and firecrackers – “things that can distract Muslims from faithfully observing Ramadan in peace,” deadpanned the Jakarta Globe. (In addition to abstaining from food and water during daylight hours, Muslims are also to refrain from sex.) Some 80 percent of porn sites had been blocked by the government, said Communication and Information Technology Minister Tifatul Sembiring.
Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, unveiled an $800 million clock that rises high above Mecca’s Grand Mosque, the destination for Muslim pilgrims and the direction in which the world’s estimated 1.6 billion Muslims face in prayer five times a day. The devout are concentrated not only in majority Muslim countries; in fact, a recent Pew study found that China had more Muslims than Syria, and Russia a larger total than Jordan and Libya combined.
Each of the four faces of the Mecca clock, which is still under construction, has a diameter of roughly 130 feet. People 16 miles away will be able to see its lighted face, according to the Associated Press.
Egypt, meanwhile, is keeping time in a rather unorthodox way – turning the clock back an hour so that the Ramadan fast ends earlier in the day. Some Muslims worried that the special Ramadan time zone might violate Islamic law, reported NPR. But most carried on with preparations for nightly feasting that causes Egypt to triple its food consumption during the month – a tradition one Egyptian compared to 30 Christmas Eve dinners.
In New Jersey, school administrators decided to cancel classes on the culminating day of Ramadan – part of a controversial move by 10 of the state’s school districts to incorporate Muslim holidays into the school calendar.
To counter what many see as increasing anti-Islamic sentiment in America, such as that surrounding the ground zero mosque, Muslims at a storefront mosque in the Miami area have decided to broadcast their Friday sermons live.