Next Monday, Americans will be staying home from work in celebration of Labor Day. In Bangladesh, next Monday will also be a very special day, though for different reasons - it will be the beginning of Ramadan 2008.
Around 90% of the population of Bangladesh are Muslim. So, much like Christmas has become a quasi public holiday season in the US, Islamic holidays have a significant imprint on public life in Bangladesh.
Ramadan is a month long religious observance during which Muslims fast from sun up to sundown. This fasting, called "roja" in Bangla, teaches humility and empathy for the poor and downtrodden. It
At sundown, or "iftar," the fast is broken. Often, the fast will be broken initially with dates and sharbat, a rose water-like drink. Iftar is a time when people come together to share food and conversation, resulting in grand meals of savory snacks.
And throughout Bangladesh, roadsides will be filled with iftar stands selling a variety of delicious foods.
But Ramadan is not all about food (or the lack thereof), it's also a time when Muslims reach out to the poor in their communities by paying "zakat," or alms. Islam requires adherents to give 2.5% of their wealth to the poor every year. Often during Ramadan this charity is distributed.