FORT JACKSON, S.C. (July 3, 2014) -- As the post Imam (Muslim religious leader), it is my privilege and honor to share information about the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

Ramadan is the month of the Islamic lunar calendar during which Muslims abstain from food, drink and other sensual pleasures from the break of dawn to sunset.

This year, Ramadan began on or near June 28 and lasts until July 28. The dates for Ramadan vary because the beginning of Islamic lunar months depends on the actual sighting of the new moon. At that time, the Muslim community in America and around the world will begin a month-long fast.

The fast is performed so one might learn discipline, self-restraint and generosity, while obeying God's commandments. Fasting -- along with the declaration of faith, daily prayers, charity, and pilgrimage to Mecca -- is one of the five pillars of Islam. Communal prayers, called "Eid ul-Fitr," or Feast of the Fast-Breaking, will mark the end of Ramadan, on or near July 28.

This is a golden time for Muslims, when people of all faiths have an opportunity to learn more about Islam and about the Islamic community in America and elsewhere, especially at Fort Jackson.

The Quran, Islam's revealed text, states:

"O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that ye may (learn) self-restraint ... Ramadan is the (month) in which was sent down the Quran, as a guide to mankind, also clear (signs) for guidance and judgment (between right and wrong). So every one of you who is present (at his home) during that month should spend it in fasting ... " (Chapter 2, verses 183 and 185)

One of the main benefits of Ramadan is an increased compassion for those who need the necessities of life, a sense of self-purification and reflection, and a renewed focus on spirituality. Muslims also appreciate the feeling of togetherness shared by family and friends throughout the month. Perhaps the greatest practical benefit is the yearly lesson in self-restraint and discipline that can carry forward to other aspects of a Muslim's life, such as work and education.

Because Ramadan is a lunar month, it begins about 11 days earlier each year. Throughout a Muslim's lifetime, Ramadan will fall both during winter months, when the days are short, and summer months, when the days are long and the fast is more difficult. In this way, the difficulty of the fast is evenly distributed between Muslims living in the northern and southern hemispheres.

Let us close with a prayer:

God of all, thank you for creating us as one, yet in wonderful diversity. Teach us that we may love and respect all people and appreciate the rich contributions from each culture and each individual. Make this month as a manifestation of that diversity and as a tool you provide to know one another. Oh God the Unique, we seek guidance from you by virtue of the trust we have in your knowledge. Oh God the Forgiver, we seek your forgiveness from you by virtue of the trust we have in your mercy. Oh God the Mighty, we seek strength in you by virtue of the trust we have in your power. O God the Gracious, we seek love from you by virtue of the trust we have in your compassion. Amen.

Special Events during Ramadan

-- Special prayers, called taraweeh, are performed after the daily nighttime prayer.

-- Lailat ul-Qadr ("Night of Power" or "Night of Destiny") marks the anniversary of the night on which the Prophet Muhammad first began receiving revelations from God through the angel Gabriel. Muslims believe Lailat ul-Qadr is one of the last odd-numbered nights of Ramadan.

Traditional Practices

-- Breaking the daily fast with a drink of water and dates;

-- Reading the entire Quran during Ramadan;

-- Social visits are encouraged. Eid ul-Fitr prayers

-- Eid begins with special morning prayers on the first day of Shawwal, the month following Ramadan on the Islamic lunar calendar.

-- It is forbidden to perform an optional fast during Eid because it is a time for relaxation.

-- During Eid, Muslims greet each other with the phrase "taqabbalallah ta'atakum," or, "May God accept your deeds," and, "Eid Mubarak," meaning "blessed Eid."

Fort Jackson services

-- July 5, 12, 19, 26; 7 to 9 p.m.; Main Post Chapel

-- July 28; 8 to 10 a.m.; Main Post Chapel (Eid ul-Fitr service)