February begins a time of reflection and fasting by Christians and Muslims throughout the world.
While Muslims observe the month of Ramadan, Christians observe the 40 days of Lent leading up to Easter.
In both cases, the observances mark a time of fasting, self-reflection and introspection even though the origins of the observances are quite different.
Ramadan commemorates the Prophet Muhammad's receiving of revelations from the archangel Gabriel. Lent is often seen as a pious identification with Jesus and the 40 days that Christian Scriptures say he spent in the wilderness before he began his active ministry.
The month of Ramadan is one of the most important observances in Islam and is one of the so-called Five Pillars of Islam. During Ramadan, all Muslims with the exception of the very young, the very aged, the pregnant and those who are traveling, are supposed to fast daily, abstain from sex and avoid all wrongdoing from sunrise to sunset.
After sunset, Muslims break the 12-hour fast together and meet for prayers. Typically, they try to read the entire Koran--the Islamic holy book--during this time.
Because Ramadan is a lunar month--the ninth month of the Islamic calendar--it begins on the sighting of the first crescent after the new moon. Depending on where the sighting takes place, Muslims expected the observance would begin either on Friday or today. The Islamic Center of Southern California designated Feb. 11 as the first day of Ramadan based on their calculations.
The Christian observance of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 16, in Western Christianity, and ends with the observance of Good Friday, commemorating the Crucifixion of Jesus. In some churches, fasting is required. Roman Catholics are asked not to eat meat on Ash Wednesday and all Fridays during Lent.
In most Christian churches with a liturgical tradition--particularly Anglican (Episcopalian), Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Lutheran--as well as many others, the 40 days of Lent is a penitential season of confession, amendment of life, prayer, study, increased alms giving, charitable service and other spiritual exercises.