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The Register encourages its readers to submit interesting questions, which will then be forwarded to an appropriate source within the University in search of the answer. Send questions via e-mail to asktheexperts@vanderbilt.edu, or via mail to “Ask the Experts” c/o the Vanderbilt Register, 110 21st Ave. S., Suite 708, Nashville, TN 37203.

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Q: What traditions are associated with the Muslim holy day Eid ul Fitr?

A: Eid ul Fitr, observed this year on Dec. 6, marks the end of the Islamic Holy month of Ramadan with a celebration. The morning starts off with a prayer at the local Mosque, followed usually by community and family events such as picnics and get-togethers to build fellowship and community. Ramadan, which began Nov. 6, is the ninth month of the Muslim calendar, which is about two weeks shorter than the Gregorian calendar (that’s why it is earlier each year). It is during this month that Muslims observe the Fast of Ramadan. Lasting for the entire month, able-bodied Muslims fast during the daylight hours and, in the evening, eat small meals and visit with friends and family. It is a time of worship, reflection, self-discipline and contemplation. It is a time to strengthen family and community ties. During Ramadan, one concentrates on rendering good and abstaining from the wrong. Ramadan's occurrence helps to renew spiritual disposition and behavior.

Source: Mohamed Abdel-Kader
Graduate student in the Department of Leadership, Policy and Organizations and activities coordinator for Project Dialogue.

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Q. What traditions are associated with the Jewish holiday Chanukah, and why does the celebration last eight days?

A. Chanukah is an eight-day festival beginning on the 25th of Kislev and lasting through the 2nd of Tevet, the third and fourth months of the Jewish calendar. As with other festivals in the cycle of the Jewish year, there seems to be a dual origin to Chanukah — seasonal and historical, according to the Jewish Catalog. The historical story is quite well known. Judah the Maccabee lead a successful revolt against the Hellenistic Syrians, who occupied the land of Israel around 165 B.C.E. There is a miracle associated with this victory. Some say that when the Temple was to be rededicated, only one cruse of sacramental oil was found. Although this was supposed to burn for only one day, it miraculously lasted for eight full days, during which time other oil was prepared. Others maintain that the victory in itself constitutes the miracle. Some scholars argue that Chanukah is related to Sukkot, which included the carrying of wands wreathed with leaves, branches with their fruit and palm fronds. Whether Chanukah draws its source from the historic, the seasonal, or, as is most likely, from some combination of the two, it is clear that the central motif is light. The only special mitzvah related to the holiday is to kindle the lights each night.

Source: Rabbi David Davis
Professor of Religion

— Taylor Bruce