With word reaching America today that the new moon has been sighted in Saudi Arabia, for much of the world’s billion plus population of Muslims, today marks the final day of Ramadan, the month long fast that is one of the five pillars of the faith of Islam. In the nearly forty years since I decided to embrace the faith, each year, within the Muslim world – known as the Uuma – both the end and the beginning of Ramadan have been sources of mild controversy and conflict because its time and length depend on the moon.
What I learned as I first began to explore the religion was that there is a twelve month calendar followed by Muslims and a great many in the world whose months are determined by the rotations of the moon around the earth - the lunar calendar - rather than the earth’s revolving around the sun - the solar calendar, which America and most of the world uses. I found fascinating the discussions about the planets, their orbits, and the entire cosmic universe contained in the Muslim Holy Book, the Qur’an, with its delving spiritually and scientifically into the wonders and mystery of the cosmos.
Ramadan is the ninth month of the lunar calendar, with each year the months evolving according to the moon, rather than being the fixed calendar dates of the solar calendar, with the result that the months of the two twelve month calendars do not coincide. The ninth month of the lunar calendar this year happens to be the sixth month of the solar calendar, June, meaning that Ramadan this year fell in the longest days of our calendar year 2017. Meaning that during this month of June, from the time of dawn to dusk – about 4:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. – Muslims could neither drink anything to quench their thirst nor eat anything to satisfy their hunger. Over a billion humans become for a month each year nocturnal creatures, as their normal bodily need for fluids and food can only be met during the night, mostly sleepless nights, occupied by prayer and scripture reading.
This physiological process that Ramadan puts the human being through rests on a spiritual underpinning. It was during this month over fourteen millenniums ago that a new religion came into the world, Islam, which translated in Arabic means submission to God. Although the state of the world today is obviously vastly different than fourteen hundred years ago when the founder of the faith began his mission to teach to the Arabs and all mankind what all the prophets who had preceded him had taught – i.e. monotheism, one God - today in America, Muslims suffer near the same peril of public and authoritarian threat as the founder and his few followers faced then.
He confronted the rulers of his time with the idea that there was an all-powerful unseen creator and ruler over the universe whose power exceeded theirs. He warned that if they did not end their unjust and oppressive ways, God would take them to task. Some six centuries after the death of Jesus Christ, this mortal middle aged man, uniquely named Muhammad, began speaking aloud, while alone in a cave during Ramadan, words that came to his tongue as a revelation, and over the next twenty-two years that were the remainder of his life he recited publicly words that were verses and stories - poetic, practical, inspirational and instructional - that came to him. These words, Muslims believe, were the Word of God that Muhammad was called upon by Allah – the Arabic word for God - to recite and have recorded in writing as an unchangeable and imperishable book, the Qur’an, which translated in Arabic means recitation.
Since my first Ramadan in 1981, and because of the nature of the lunar calendar to unfold in the opposite direction of the solar calendar, I have experienced the fast through all the seasons and their varying hours of daylight and darkness, and through all the rulers from Reagan to Trump, with Ramadan occurring during the spring and then winter of the Bush I presidency, the winter and then fall of the Clinton years, the fall of Bush II’s two terms, and the summer of the Obama era.
I don’t recall exactly what was occurring with Reagan and his administration in the seventh month of his presidency, a sizzling July summer month that was my first Ramadan, as I was more focused on trying to adhere to the requirements of the fast, studying for the bar exam, and becoming for the first time a father. I do recall unmistakably, though, this foreboding sense of almost imminent doom by black folks that Reagan would roll back and reverse every single civil rights advance, law, and policy achieved in the 60’s and 70’s that he could.
In the sixth month of his presidency, Trump, a fomenter of Muslim fear and arguably the preeminent ruler on the planet, finds himself in the ninth month of the lunar calendar. On this apparently final day of this holy month, fourteen hundred and thirty-eight years after Muhammad fled for his life from Mecca to Medina, Muslims in the millions in America in 2017 find themselves having endured fasting during the longest days of daylight and shortest days of darkness of the year.
A reminder to them that power rests with God.
Eric E. Vickers,
Attorney-at-Law & Civil Rights Activist.
Attorney-at-Law & Civil Rights Activist.