Unlike Christian or Jewish holidays, there isn’t a universally accepted method to be exactly sure which day Ramadan begin. In fact, there is significant debate among Muslims in America about whether calculations or visual confirmation should be used to determine the exact date of Islamic holidays.
One school of thought on the issue follows the dictates of scientific calculations, which tell us that the new crescent moon should be visible tonight, signifying that tomorrow will be the first day of Ramadan. Others feel that an actual sighting of the moon is required to confirm the date, regardless of whether or not calculations predict it will be there. This group of people could start Ramadan tomorrow or the day afterwards.
As I previously mentioned, I am an unapologetic geek, so I abide by the calculations method. This, however, does not take away the significance for me of seeing the hilal (crescent moon) that marks the beginning of Ramadan. So tonight, just after sunset, I will look just above and to the left of where the sun set to see with my own eyes what my heart (and computer) already know to be true: Ramadan has arrived, and fasting begins tomorrow.
I will spend the evening reflecting on what is to come, for if we are not in the right state of mind to receive the gifts of Ramadan, all we will get for our efforts are 30 days of hunger. I will remind myself that I intend to be on my best behavior during the month, that good deeds done during this month earn a special reward. I intend to seek forgiveness for the sins of the past year, for this month the gates of Heaven are open and the gates of Hell are shut.
I intend to read the Qur’an in its entirety, for it was in Ramadan that this gift was given to Muslims. (I’ll be reading what many consider to be the best English translation, that of Muhammad Asad, a Jewish convert to Islam whose parents perished in the Holocaust.)
For those who still cannot relate to what we are about to experience, I leave you with an excerpt of a poem by Rumi on fasting:
There’s hidden sweetness in the stomach’s emptiness.
We are lutes, no more, no less.
If the soundbox is stuffed full of anything, no music.
If the brain and belly are burning clean with fasting,
every moment a new song comes out of the fire.
I pray that my fasts are accepted and that the bounty of this month can be seen in the face of every Muslim. Ameen.