Ramadan this year begins tonight, June 17, 2015 with the first sighting of the new moon. Because of this, the exact start time is debatable. There will be lots of people with telescopes out tonight. It ends July 17, when the first crescent of the new moon is sighted. Ramadan is the holiest month of the year for Muslims.

There are about 1.6 Muslims in the world, and 10 million in the U.S. Freedom of religion means people of every religion are free to practice their faith as they wish.

During this month-long period, Muslims will fast during the day, only eating and drinking after sundown. Even water is off the menu during the day. They will give to charity and practice good works. It is a time of self examination – a time to refrain from the world’s pleasures and rekindle your prayer life and spirituality. Think Lent. Children, the elderly, travelers, and pregnant women are exempted from the fast.

After sunset and sunset prayer, Muslims break their fast with a sip of water and a date, then the feasting begins. The post-sundown feast is called an iftar. This week I will have the privilege of speaking at an iftar. I will talk about fasting in the Christian tradition and about the importance of interfaith dialog.

If you want to be respectful of Muslim friends, wish them a happy Ramadan: “Ramadan mubarak!”