The month of Ramadan, which starts this year on Wednesday night, is the most important on the Muslim calendar. It was during this month, Muslims say, that the Quran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. Muslims are commanded to abstain from food, drink, sex and other pleasures during daylight hours if they are able. The sighting of the new moon, which will end Ramadan and begin the month of Shawwal, starts a three-day celebration call Eid al-Fitr. That first day of Eid is expected to be Oct. 13.

The month of Ramadan, which starts this year on Wednesday night, is the most important on the Muslim calendar. It was during this month, Muslims say, that the Quran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. Muslims are commanded to abstain from food, drink, sex and other pleasures during daylight hours if they are able. The sighting of the new moon, which will end Ramadan and begin the month of Shawwal, starts a three-day celebration call Eid al-Fitr. That first day of Eid is expected to be Oct. 13.

Religious, cultural and personal traditions and practices permeate Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr. Several collected by Ausia Malik, a member of the Islamic Foundation of Peoria, are presented here.

Traditions

Ramadan

"My father was always put in charge of the local 'moon-sighting committee.' He would take myself and my two brothers out on our deck, and we would look for the moon. My father's job was to then call all the members of the community to inform them that Ramadan will start." - Ausia Malik

Before the cell phone became commonplace, Afghans would build a fire on mountaintops to relay the message that a new moon had been sighted.

Groups, usually comprising young men, walk through the streets of Muslim communities before dawn, beating drums or blowing horns and calling out to wake everyone up in time for the predawn meal. In Nigeria, the drumming and singing groups are called ajiwere, pronounced ah-g-way-ray.

In Indonesia, relatives' graves are visited and cleaned. Homes are "detail-cleaned." Personal grooming is emphasized. Families spend time together and often take other families to restaurants to break the fast.

Young Muslims in the area near Ibadan, Nigeria, build deck-like structures called Taranga for seating and breaking the fast.

American Muslims have adopted the potluck dinner for fast-breaking meals at mosques or homes. The result is a combination of ethnic food traditions, since there is a mix of nationalities in American Islamic communities.

Children too young to fast the entire day are rewarded with candy or a favorite meal for fasting for two to three hours a day.

The Night of Power, on which the Quran began to be revealed, is believed to have happened on one of the final odd-numbered nights during the last 10 days of Ramadan, most likely the 27th. Many Muslims try to stay up all night to pray because it is believed to be a night of "spiritual bounty" in which prayers are answered and forgiveness bestowed.

Food and money are donated to the poor throughout Ramadan.

Eid al-Fitr

Many Muslim cities have public prayer grounds for mass prayer on festival days.

Women and girls - and sometimes boys - traditionally put designs on their hands with henna, a reddish-brown dye, the night before Eid.

Other traditions: Giving gifts to children; lighting incense on Eid morning; dressing in bright, new clothes.

In Indonesia, cities will hold a "parade of cars" throughout the city, with open trucks filled with boys chanting "Allahu-akbar!" ("God is great").

At Indonesian Eid celebrations at homes, younger children will sit on the floor next to older family members and kiss their hands to show respect.

Food

Ramadan is known as a month of daylight fasting, but Muslims have their favorite foods to eat before and after each day's fast.

Traditional predawn foods (suhur) by nationality:

Pakistani: Parata, pita bread; savayah, thin noodles cooked with milk and sugar; lassi, a blended drink of yogurt, water, milk and sugar.

Indian: Hot roti (bread); milk and corn bread mixture.

Palestinian: Lentil soup.

Bengali: Rice with a meat curry and vegetables; rice mixed with milk and sugar.

American: Bowl of cereal, eggs, banana bread, fruit, muffins, apple turnovers.

Foods for breaking the fast or eating in the evening (iftar):

All: Dates, a tradition started by the prophet Muhammad.

Pakistani: Dehi pulkeya (deep fried batter biscuits), potato pancakes, samosas, fruit salad. Beverages include ru hafza, or rose water, almond iced water and milk with soda.

Afghan: Paraki or bolani - (spinach, potato or squash) spread onto a flat, thin bread, and folded, then baked or deep-fried.

Indian: Bajis, made from bean flour, deep-fried batter often filled with potatoes, eggplant or spinach leaves; namak-paree - white flour deep-fried like a crispy chip; split-pea dish; ghoghni – boiled chickpeas, onions, chili and salt; popcorn popped in hot sand; pakora - deep-fried snacks dipped in graham flour batter; shaarbat - drinks made with ground fennel seeds, sugar and water.

Bengali: Sherbet drink with water, sugar and lemon. Also snacks like garbanzo beans, muri (puffed rice), tiazu (fried ground red lentils, onions and salt to taste and beguini (eggplant dipped in bean flour and deep-fried).

Palestinian: soos, cold tea made of licorice root; upside-down chicken, layered with rice and fried or sauteed vegetables.

American: Fruit, egg rolls, garbanzo beans, potatoes.

Eid foods:

Treats for kids: cookies, dry fruit, walnuts or candy. Also, eidi (cash).

Ketupat: Palm leaves filled with boiled rice and then made into small squares. Eaten with meat or chicken. (Indonesian)

Katayif: sweet pastry with walnuts and coconut (Palestinian).

Keema-savia: ground beef with vermicelli noodles (Indian).

Contributing: Ausia Malik, Maisun Mizved, Shehla Anwar, Ghafoor Baha, Afshan Khan, Vivi Pravetian, Nighat Ara, Olajide Giwa.