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9:48 PM Wed, Sept. 19th

Religious holidays share time slot in '01

PRESCOTT – Followers of Islam, Judaism and Christianity celebrate their religious holidays this year within the same month.

Ramadan, which started on Nov. 17 and concludes with the Eid al-Fitr Muslim holiday on Dec. 17, precedes Christmas and overlaps Hanukkah this year.

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar called Hijra. Based on a lunar cycle, each month of Hijra starts with the sighting of the new moon. The calendar year consists of 354 days and 12 months. As a result, the months move backward over the seasons, beginning again on the same day every 36 years, explained Sabahudin Ceman, imam of the Islamic Center of North Phoenix.

The Islamic year begins on the first day of Muharram, and the Muslim calendar begins from the year of Muhammad's migration from Mecca to Medina (A.D. 622). The year 2002 translates to the 1422-1423 Muslim year.

Muslims believe that during the month of Ramadan, Allah revealed the first verses of their holy book, the Quran.

During Ramadan, each night in prayers, known as tarawih, Muslims recite about one 30th of the Quran with a goal to recite the entire scripture by the end of the month.

Ceman, however, said that it varies from country to country and mosque to mosque. In Bosnia, for example, Muslims would dedicate a specific mosque for that town to recite the entire Quran, Ceman said, adding that most of the mosques in the United States recite the entire scripture.

Muslims fast during the month of Ramadan from sunrise until sunset. They can't eat or drink anything during that time. Fasting serves many purposes, according to Ceman.

"It is a way to show sympathy and compassion for the poor," he said. "It is a spiritual and physical way to clean yourself" as well as to show to the world that you are willing to sacrifice.

Since Ramadan is the blessed month, Muslims believe that any good deeds they do during this month "will be looked at on a higher scale," Ceman explained.

"Any effort you do in this month, you will get a greater reward for it" from Allah, he said.

Ramadan ends with Eid al-Fitr, the "Festival of Breaking the Fast." Prior to Eid, Muslims must pay Zakatul Fitr as well as normal zekat, which usually are monetary donations given to the mosques for the needy.

On Eid, friends and family visit and give treats to children.

Hanukkah, the "Festival of Lights," starts on the 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev and lasts for eight days and nights. Jewish people base their calendar on a lunar cycle, said Rabbi William Berkowitz of Prescott's Temple B'rith Shalom.

The Jewish year may have 12 or 13 months depending on how many lunar cycles there are in a year. The New Year begins with Rosh Hashanah on the first day of Tishri month, which is the seventh month in the Jewish calendar.

The year 2001 translates to the 5762 Jewish year. According to Berkowitz, it goes back to the creation of the world.

This year, Hanukkah begins at sundown on Dec. 9 and it always extends into the winter solstice, he explained.

"Hanukkah has a historical significance to us," he said. "For the first time, our people had to fight for their religious freedom."

About 2,200 years ago, Greeks tried to suppress religious freedom of the Jewish people by forbidding their religious practices and a study of their holy book, the Torah. Religious Jews in the region known as Maccabees fought the Greeks and, about 165 B.C., they were able to reclaim their temple.

They lit a light in the temple to rededicate it. In Hebrew, Hanukkah means "dedication." According to the legend, they found enough oil to light the temple for one day, but the light miraculously continued to burn for eight days.

"We light candles for each night" of Hanukkah, Berkowitz said. "It is a remembrance of rededication of the temple in Jerusalem."

Jewish people cook many traditional Hanukkah foods in oil, in remembrance of the oil that burned in the temple. Jelly doughnuts and potato pancakes are among the most popular Hanukkah foods, Berkowitz said. A toy with a spinning top called the Dreidel is another Hanukkah tradition as well as family visits and the gift giving, he said.

Editors note: the writer used information from the Web site, www.ifgstl.org/html/eidfnf.htm