Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting, begins for Muslims in the U.S. on Friday. How do Muslims in America set the first day of fasting and what are the roles of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and Indonesian Muslim organizations here in this country?
The Fiqh Council of North America, which interprets Islamic law, decided that the first day of Ramadan in the U.S. would be Friday, as it is in most of the Arab world and parts of Asia. The Council, consisting of a set of American Muslim scholars, based its decision on a scientific calculation called Hisab. It enables them to determine the start of the fasting month years in advance.
The Hisab method is different from another method called Rukyah, which is based on sighting the moon, and is commonly used by Muslims in Indonesia to determine the beginning and end of Ramadan.
ISNA adopted the Hisab method three years ago.
"So far it’s working very well because the majority of the Muslim countries have fasted according to this calculation now, [and] because that has helped the Muslim community," stated ISNA President Mohammad Magid.
Muslims from Indonesia living in the U.S., usually belong to one of two main associations -- the Indonesian Muslim Association in America (IMAAM) in the Washington, DC area, and the Indonesian Muslim Society in America and Canada (IMSA) and those groups have different opinions about the decision of the Fiqh council.
Oscar Zaky is the president of IMAAM. As an organization in America, he said, IMAAM needs to follow the Council's decision and not Indonesia's decision. Indonesia's government has decided that Ramadan starts on Saturday, July 21, 2012.
Zaky says that even though the majority of its members are Indonesians, IMAAM is part of the American Muslim community.
Arief Iswanto is president of IMSA. He explains why his organization does not follow the decision of the Fiqh Council.
Arief says the difference should not divide Muslims. He believes both decisions are right because each has its references.
The Islamic Center of Washington, DC, the largest mosque in the nation's capital, determined Thursday evening that Ramadan would start on Friday.
During Ramadan, Muslims fast from dawn to sunset, and are not allowed food or drink. It is very challenging for some because of the heat wave that most of the United States is facing right now - the worst heat wave in decades. But Muslims are allowed to eat and drink again the whole night, after the sun sets and before the sun rises.
Muslims will crowd mosques to break their fast and pray the Taraweeh, a special prayer performed only during Ramadan. Based on the method of computation, Ramadan will last for 30 days.
Ramadan ends with the Eid al-Fitr festival, which includes feasts and an exchange of gifts. On that day, Muslims believe they are reborn and cleaned from their sins.
Muslim organizations estimate that there are 7 million Muslims in the U.S.