It is probable that the prophet Mohammed, the founder of Islam, adopted existing Jewish practices, for example the prohibition of pork, as a way of encouraging Jewish converts to Islam and to distinguish Muslims from their Christian rivals. The Qur'an, a Holy Book given to Mohammed by Allah, contains dietary regulations which echo those of Judaism. Flesh of animals that are cloven hooved and those that chew the cud is lawful. Pigs, blood, carrion, and foods offered to other idols are forbidden, though one who eats these foods under constraint does not sin. Carnivorous animals and birds which seize their prey with talons are forbidden, as is the flesh of the domestic ass.
Alcohol is prohibited. Fish must be alive when taken from the sea or river, and only fish which have fins and scales are allowed, thus excluding shellfish and eels. To be acceptable to a Muslim an animal must be bled to death while the words 'Bismi 'llahi. Allah Akbar' (I begin with God's name. God is great) are spoken. Such meat is 'Halal,' or lawful, and is stamped with a Halal seal.
Fasting is one of the Five Pillars of Islam and is an important duty of Muslims. It is a way of expressing piety, self-restraint, and freedom from worldly desire and is a means of reaping spiritual rewards. Except for a few holy festival days Muslims may voluntarily fast whenever they wish. Strict adherents fast on Monday and Thursday of every week and on the 13th, 14th, and 15th of each month.
Ramadan, falling in the ninth lunar month, is the major fast of the Muslim year and is one of the most strictly observed of Islamic practices. The word is derived from 'ramz,' meaning 'to burn,' and may derive either from the fact that the fast was first observed in the hot season or because it was believed that fasting would burn away sins. The Ramadan fast involves abstinence from food and water between sunrise and sunset for the whole month and is prescribed for all who have reached the 'Age of Responsibility' (12 years for girls; 15 years for boys). The day's fast should be broken as soon after sunset as possible and this often takes place at a mosque or at house parties, for it is highly commendable to provide food to others, especially the poor. A morning meal should be eaten as late as is possible prior to sunrise. The end of Ramadan is signaled by the sighting of the new moon and is celebrated with prayers and with feasting.
Certain groups are exempted partially or totally from the Ramadan fast. Anyone who is sick, on a journey, or engaged in hard labour may break the fast, but must make up the days later. Women who are menstruating or are in childbirth are similarly exempted, while pregnant or nursing women and elderly persons in poor health may defer fasting until later in the year or may 'substitute fast' by feeding the poor. Younger children are expected to undertake short fasts in preparation for when they reach the Age of Responsibility.
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