The woman’s whole household program is changed during Ramadan, the ninth month in the Muslim lunar calendar, the month in which the first sections of the Qur’an were revealed to Muhammad. During this month of fasting all except children, the sick, pregnant women, the aged and travelers, fast from dawn to sunset.
Most people eat at night but the children still have to be fed during the day. In many parts of the Muslim world a siren, several hours before dawn, rouses housewives to get up and cook so that the family can eat before daybreak. The month of fasting is a great physical and social testing time, especially in hot climates. Ramadan is not entirely ascetic. More time is devoted to prayer, and reading the Qur’an but much socializing takes place when neighbors and friends both Muslim and Christian can participate, women with women and men with men. There are often opportunities to talk about one’s Christian faith and practice. In some countries, the time to call on your friends is in the evening, not during the day when people are fasting, for the rules of hospitality require the hostess to offer food and drink.
Eid al-Fitr, the festival of the breaking of the fast, marks the end of Ramadan. After the men have attended the mosque and participated in the prayers, worship and listened to the sermon they go home for further festivities. The women do not generally go to the mosque or special prayers but pray at home and are involved in cooking choice dishes. Everyone wears new clothes and gifts are often exchanged.
The main festival of the year is Eid al-Adha, the festival of sacrifice, which takes place seventy days after the end of Ramadan This sacrifice, made by pilgrims as part of their pilgrimage, is celebrated by Muslims everywhere. It is prescribed in the Qur’an:
Livestock are useful to you until the set time. Then their place of sacrifice is near the Ancient House. We appointed acts of devotion for every community, for them to celebrate God’s name over the livestock He provided for them: your God is One, so devote yourselves to Him and give good news to the humble whose hearts fill with awe whenever God is mentioned, who endure whatever happens to them with patience, who keep up the prayer, who give to others out of Our provision to them. We have made camels part of God’s sacred rites for you. There is much good in them for you, so invoke God’s name over them as they are lined up for sacrifice, then, when they have fallen down dead, feed yourselves and those who do not ask, as well as those who do. We have subjected them to you in this way so that you may be thankful. It is neither their meat nor their blood that reaches God but your piety. He has subjected them to you in this way so that you may glorify God for having guided you (22:33-37).
According to the traditions, merit is acquired from the sacrifice. It is interesting that the Qur’an records it was God himself who provided for a substitute an animal as “a mighty sacrifice” when Abraham was about to sacrifice his son. Most Muslims consider that the Quranic reference to Abraham’s son is a reference to Ishmael and not to Isaac. However, the name of his son is not given in this section of the Qur’an (37:102-109) and there are a few early Muslim commentators who name him as Isaac. We can perhaps avoid discussing this matter and concentrate on comparing Eid al-Adha with the Jewish Passover (Exodus 12), Good Friday, and the Lord’s Supper using the following questions in each case:
- What is commemorated?
- What is sacrificed?
- How does one prepare oneself?
- What was sacrificed?
- Who is saved?
- Who provided the sacrifice?
- How do we commemorate?
These religious ceremonies affect home life very much and therefore involve women particularly. Even Muslim families unaccustomed to practicing daily prayers and other religious duties will celebrate Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha just as Christians celebrate Christmas and Easter. They are social as well as religious occasions. Muslims and Christians generally show considerable interest in each other’s festivals. These festivals and the interest they generate can be bridges for understanding and communication between the communities.