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Trusted local news leader for Prescott area communities since 1882
11:09 PM Sat, Nov. 17th

Jews, Muslims mark holy days

The Daily Courier

Two of the world's great religions are marking some of their holiest days beginning this week.

The Jewish community began observing Rosh Hashana - the Jewish new year - Wednesday evening, and the smaller Muslim community is marking Ramadan, the month of fasting.

Rosh Hashana, which marks year 5768 in the Jewish calendar, always takes place this time of the year. By contrast, Ramadan changes every year to reflect the lunar cycle.

Both holidays rarely take place at the same time, said Mark Woodward, a professor of religious studies at Arizona State University in Tempe.

Rosh Hashana marks the "most complex time" of the year and is unique to Jewish tradition, Rabbi Phil Cohen of Temple B'rith Shalom in Prescott said.

"It is an 11-day period from the beginning of Rosh Hashana to the end of Yom Kippur, in which the idea, at least, is that Jews are to take very seriously the nature of their lives," Cohen said. Yom Kippur is the Jewish Day of Atonement.

Jews take stock through charity, repentance and prayer, he said.

Cohen, who started on the job in July, said Rosh Hashana celebrates the birth of the world.

"It is a festival not only of serious contemplation, but it is also a festival of renewal," he said.

He said temple congregants observed Rosh Hashana beginning with services on Wednesday evening, followed by services this morning and afternoon, and Friday morning. The temple has more than 160 families, said Bob Casden, board president.

Unlike the Jewish community, which dates from the arrival of the Goldwater family to Prescott in the 1860s, the Muslim community in the tri-city area is much smaller and newer.

Four Muslim families live in Prescott Valley, said Mohammed Alam, an immigrant from Bangladesh. The closest mosque is in Tempe.

During Ramadan, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset, and abstain from drinking, smoking and sexual activity, Woodward said.

"That is just the way it is set forth in the Quran," Woodward said. "It honors God. It is also a spiritual exercise," not unlike Catholics fasting during Lent.

"If you fast for the entire month, all your sins from the previous year will be forgiven," Woodward said. "You are (also) supposed to be nice to people. You say extra prayers at night."

Fasting could start today or Friday, Alam said, adding that he needs to call his mosque to find out when to start.

"According to our religious leaders," he said, "I have to feel somebody's hunger because of those who have no food. You have to start fasting to feel others' hunger."

Alam, who works in the fast-food industry, continued, "For example, I have a house, but somebody (else) does not have a house or no food or no money. Think about your neighbors or those who are poor."

Ramadan comes with an irony, Woodward said.

"People tend to gain weight during Ramadan," he said. "Soon as the sun goes down, you start eating like crazy."