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Islam rests on five pillars:
-the “Shahada” which is the Muslim’s declaration of faith and “the key to Paradise”: “I profess that there is no God but God; I profess that Mohammed is the Apostle of God”.
-the prayer that is said 5 times a day, at dawn, around noon, in the afternoon, after sunset and in the evening; the Muslim recites the prayer with his face turned towards Mecca.
-the pilgrimage: once in his life, the Muslim who can afford it must go to Mecca.
-the legal almsgiving: the Muslim must use a portion of his wealth to help the needy.
-the fast during the holy month of Ramadan: it is a daytime fast all along the lunar month of Ramadan, the ninth month in the Islamic calendar. It must be a total fast from the moment that dawn allows the distinction between “the white thread and the black thread” and until night time. For the fast to be valid, one must declare his intention and refrain carefully from anything that could break the fast.
All along the month of Ramadan, social life has a special tone; from dawn to sunset all activities seem to be on hold. No doubt the nights during Ramadan are sometimes opportunities for celebrations but it is said that one must refrain from sleeping during the day, that one must stay sober during the night and not eat or drink greedily straight after sunset as the fast must keep its true meaning which is to control one’s passions and to bring one’s soul closer to God.
Indeed the choice of the month of Ramadan confirms this as it is the month “during which Revelation came down to give Direction for men”. It is therefore like the Koran’s celebration and these 28 or 29 days of fasting are like a long celebration of the Descent of the Book. The peak date is one of the nights of the last decade, preferably the night from the 26th to the 27th day: it is “the “laylat al-quadr”, “the night of the Destiny”.
An Arabic word, “hidjira”, means emigration or flight. The Hegira started on the 6th of July 622, on the day when Prophet Mohammed left Mecca, his native town, to go to Medina. This date has been considered to be the beginning of the Muslim calendar since Caliph Omar decided to commemorate this historic day.
Officially, the year in the Muslim calendar is divided into twelve lunar months to a total of 354 or 355 days that is to say eleven days less than the solar year. Thus 33 years in the Muslim calendar equals 32 years in the solar calendar. Each month in the lunar calendar has 29 or 30 days, each starting at sunset.
Fixing the moment when a month starts is very important especially to date the beginning of Ramadan and it needs two trustworthy people to witness the time when a new moon starts; this is sometimes complicated in Northern countries or during seasons when the sky is clouded over.
One should note that a minimum of scientific knowledge is required to determine this since, by definition, a new moon is invisible to the human eye except at the time of eclipses.