One of the disadvantages (depending on how you look at it) of basing Muslim holidays on a lunar calendar is that Ramadan is always on the move. Islamic holidays move backward at the rate of about 10 days per year with respect to the Gregorian calendar. Five years ago, Ramadan was planted firmly in the wintertime, which meant that fasting could end as early as 4 or 5 pm. In another five, however, Ramadan will encroach on summertime, where days stretch on until 9 pm or later. (I began fasting at age 14, when Ramadan was in the middle of summer, so fasting comes pretty easy for me.)
There is, however, a bright side to this holiday mobility. As Ramadan moves slowly through the calendar year, we have multiple opportunities to share Ramadan with other faith traditions and holidays as their paths cross in time. And each time this happens, there is a bit of cross-pollination that goes on that I believe enriches both traditions.
A few years ago, Ramadan coincided with Thanksgiving, which offered Muslims an opportunity to incorporate thanks for the freedoms we enjoy in America into their Ramadan prayers. Before that, Ramadan was a visible part of the Christmas/Hannukah holiday season for the first time in modern history, which elevated awareness of the holiday in the eyes of our government, the business world, and society at large. And I remember my college days at UC Berkeley, when Muslim students broke their fast at a special Passover seder, with a special haggadah written with Jewish and Muslim traditions in mind.
This Ramadan happily coincides with the start of the Jewish High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah, which I feel is particularly serendipitous because of the similarity of both holidays. Both have a focus on seeking forgiveness and spiritual renewal, and both feature an extended period of soul-searching. And for one day, on Yom Kippur, both Jews and Muslims will be fasting until the sun sets.
I hope both faith communities take this opportunity to share at least part of this time celebrating under one roof. After all, this opportunity only comes around every 33 years. Two years ago, during my last year in graduate school at Georgetown, I organized a joint Rosh Hashana-Ramadan celebration for our fellow students, who enjoyed baklava, apples & honey, stuffed dates, challah, Turkish delight, and Indo-Pakistani sweets in between classes. It went over very well and help bond our communities together.
L’Shanah Tovah and Ramadan Mubarak! May both our peoples be blessed!