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What is Ramadan? A look at how 1.6 billion Muslims observe the holy month

More than a billion Muslims around the world are marking the start of Ramadan Monday.

What is Ramadan and how is it observed? Here’s a quick look at the origins of the holy month and how Muslims celebrate it.

What is it?

The word "Ramadan" is from an Arabic phrase for intense heat, scorched ground and lack of food and drink.

Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, is a month of fasting and prayer. It has been celebrated for centuries in Islam. Followers believe it was in the ninth month of the Islamic calendar that the Prophet Muhammad received the initial revelations of the Islam holy book -- which became the Quran.

>> Got a question about the news? See our explainers here

When is it?

The date of Ramadan changes each year, and is based on a lunar calendar. The calendar is based on the phases of the moon, and lasts for around 354 days.

This year, Ramadan began the evening of Sunday, June 6  (first day of fasting is Monday), and ends during the evening of Tuesday, July 5.

How is it observed? 

During Ramadan, Muslims (with the exception of children, the elderly, the sick, and pregnant women) abstain from food, drink and other activities during daylight hours. Fasting is the most important aspect of the observation as it is one of the Five Pillars of Islam -- or the framework for Muslim life.

Muslims are also encouraged to read the entire Quran and to engage in acts of charity. Drinking, smoking, sexual activity and impure thoughts and words are forbidden. 

A meal called "suhoor" is eaten each day just before the sun rises and the fast starts. The fast is broken after sunset with a meal called "iftar." 

When does it end?

Ramadan ends when the first crescent of the new moon is sighted and the 10th month of the Islamic calendar begins.  The conclusion of the observance comes with a celebration known as Eid al-Fitr -- the Feast of Fast-Breaking. It starts the day after Ramadan ends and lasts for three days. Special prayers are said, and gifts are often exchanged.

Sources: timeanddate.com; islamguide.com; history.com; BBC.com

Jan Crouch, co-founder of Trinity Broadcasting Network, dies

Jan Crouch, co-founder of Trinity Broadcasting Network, has died Tuesday after suffering a “significant” stroke last week.

She was 78.

Her children Matt and Laurie shared their thoughts on her death on their website

"Laurie and I have just watched the transition of our precious mother from this world to the next; watched her step into the presence of Jesus and into her heavenly reward. Jan Crouch, known around the world as Momma Jan, has gone home," Matt and Laurie Crouch wrote.

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Earlier reports indicated that her prognosis for recovery was poor.

Crouch, along with her late husband, Paul Crouch, founded TBN in 1973. TBN bills itself as the largest religious network in the world. The channel offers 24-hour inspirational programming. Crouch was known for her big hair, and dramatic makeup and wardrobe. 

Ohio students told not to sing the Lord's Prayer at graduation had this bold response

Seniors at an Ohio high school are making headlines with their defiant response after being told not to sing the Lord's Prayer during their graduation ceremony.

According to WTOV, the prayer has been included in East Liverpool High School's commencement for seven decades. But that tradition looked like it was going to come to an end this year after the Freedom From Religion Foundation told the school to remove the prayer from the program because it violates the separation of church and state.

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"We said, 'OK, we just won't do it anymore,'" school board President Larry Walton told WTOV. "It was a decision made because we don't have a lot of money, and we'd rather hire teachers than pay lawyers."

But the graduating class had other ideas. When valedictorian Jonathan Montgomery came onstage to speak Sunday, he led his fellow students in reciting the prayer. Afterward, the audience gave the grads a standing ovation.

>> Click here to watch

Parents capture touching photo of brother and sister praying before school

A touching photo shows two siblings taking some time to reflect before parting ways for the day.

The picture shared on Facebook by WJTV in Jackson, Mississippi, shows the kids standing in a driveway in front of their home. The boy, Jordan Wyatt, is dressed for school, wearing a white shirt tucked into his khakis.

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His little sister, Marlie Rain, wearing pajamas and her mother’s shoes, is holding both of his hands. Their eyes are closed in prayer.

The image, posted Thursday, has gone viral, with more than 4,000 shares and 8,900 likes.

“Since there is so much negativity being shown, especially with the youth, we can perhaps show some positive influence to other parents as well as the youth… Prayer changes things,” parent Juan Wyatt wrote.

Read more here.

>> Click here to see the Facebook post

Man admits to pulling off a woman's hijab on an airplane

North Carolina man pleaded guilty to "forcibly" pulling off a woman's hijab during a Southwest Airlines flight.

Gill Parker Payne admitted that he walked up to the stranger wearing the religious headscarf and told her to take it off during a flight from Chicago to Albuquerque at the end of last year.

>> Click here to watch the video from Newsy

In the plea agreement, Payne also admitted to saying something like "Take it off! This is America!" and pulling the woman's hijab completely off.

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The U.S. Attorney for the District of New Mexico said: "This prosecution sends a clear message to anyone who contemplates the use of threats or intimidation to interfere with the right of individuals, including members of our Muslim community, to express their faith without fear."

Payne faces up to a year of imprisonment and a $100,000 fine. A date for his sentencing hearing has not been set. 

This video includes an image from sittiealiah M A / CC BY 2.0.

Speaking to a higher power: 5 things to know about the National Day of Prayer

In an American tradition that stretches back to the '50s, the first Thursday in May marks the annual National Day of Prayer.

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The main event will be in Washington, D.C., where faith leaders will lead prayers for the country's leaders according to IBTimes.

Here are five things to know about the National Day of Prayer, according to nationaldayofprayer.org:

  1. It was started in 1952 with a bill initiated by Conrad Hilton of Hilton Hotels and Sen. Frank Carlson that required the President, which was Harry Truman at the time, to set aside a day of prayer on a day other than a Sunday.
  2. The first National Day of Prayer observance organized by the National Prayer committee occurred in 1983 at Constitution Hall, featuring then-Vice President George Bush as a speaker.
  3. In 1988, Ronald Reagan signed a law designating the first Thursday in May as the annual National Day of Prayer.
  4. President Bill Clinton signed a law in 1998 that required the president to proclaim the day every year as a day that people of the United States may turn to God in prayer and meditation at churches, in groups and as individuals.
  5. 2016 marks the 65th anniversary of the National Day of Prayer.

Click here to read more facts about religion in America from Pew Research.

Noah's Ark to sail into San Diego

A replica of Biblical proportions will soon sail into the harbor in San Diego. 

A life-sized copy of Noah's Ark will travel by barge from the Netherlands to Brazil this summer for the Olympic and Paralympic games, KFMB reported.

It is then scheduled to visit Long Beach, San Diego and Seattle.

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The five-deck ship was built by carpenter Johan Huibers as a religious attraction. 

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And while the original Ark had animals loaded two-by-two, the replica includes life-sized model pairs of giraffes, elephants, crocodiles and many more animals.

It was created to be a museum and event center in partnership with the Ark of Noah Foundation.

The foundation's director said the group would like to build Ark of Hope Centers in areas that need help, KFMB reported.

There is no timeframe for the Ark's voyage to the United States.

Divine sign? Indiana mom's otherworldly ultrasound picture goes viral

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An Indiana mom's viral ultrasound picture isn't just unusual – some say it's otherworldly.

According to WFIE, Aley Meyer of Evansville, Indiana, was at her baby shower recently when a friend pointed out that a sonogram of her son, due in June, seems to include an image of Jesus on the cross.

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"We took a picture of it and blew it up on my phone to get a closer look and it is so much detail," she told WFIE. "You can see the hair and his legs crossed and everything."

Meyer believes the image, which has gone viral on Facebook, is a sign. 

"I've been on a lot of medicine for my Crohn's disease, and I've been very worried about it, so I feel like it's a sign that everything's going to be OK with him," Meyer told WFIE.

Read more here.

>> Click here to see the viral image

>> Click here to watch the news report

Tri-State News, Weather & Sports

Instead of speeding ticket, deputy offers prayer for driver's mom fighting cancer

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An Idaho sheriff's deputy's heartwarming act of kindness for a woman and her sick mother is going viral.

According to KREM-TV, Kootenai County Sheriff’s Deputy Matthew Brakeman recently pulled over a speeding driver, identified as RaeAnn Kuykendall, in Hayden. But as he spoke to Kuykendall and her passenger –  Kuykendall's mother – he could tell something was wrong.

"I asked where they were headed, and she said, 'To the oncologist,' " Brakeman told KREM. "She then started to become a little bit emotional."

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Brakeman, who lost his own mother to cancer, knew the feeling all too well. He went back to his patrol car but didn't return with a ticket.

"(I) then walked back up to the passenger side and asked her mother if she would accept a prayer, and she said, 'Absolutely,' " Brakeman said. "So then we prayed, and (I) told them to have a good day and went back to my car."

Kuykendall was touched. She took to the department's Facebook page to share the deputy's good deed.

"Needless to say, I emotionally lost it but (am) thankful for him pulling me over at that moment and offering his kindness to us," she wrote. "I don't know the officer's (name) that stopped me, but I want to thank him for his blessings and for hope."

Read more here.

>> Click here to see Kuykendall's Facebook post

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U.S. Army rules Sikh officer can keep these distinctive parts of his look

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A Sikh U.S. Army captain will be able to keep his religiously-mandated turban and beard.

Capt. Simratpal Singh had filed a discrimination suit against the Army last month. The Army announced last week that Singh, a West Point graduate, would be granted a “religious accommodation” to the rules against facial hair and headwear while on active duty.

The Army also announced that it “intends to gather information to develop uniform standards for religious accommodations.”

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“My military service continues to fulfill a lifelong dream,” Singh, who earned a Bronze Star in Afghanistan, said in a press release. “My faith, like [the faith of] many of the soldiers I work with, is an integral part of who I am. I am thankful that I no longer have to make the choice between faith and service to our nation.”

Singh had cut his hair and shaved his face for years to comply with the Army’s regulations.

The Army had requested tests to make sure Singh could wear a helmet and gas mask while wearing the turban. Singh sued, noting that other soldiers with beards were not subjected to tests.

The Army’s permanent accommodation comes with conditions. It could be revoked if the beard and turban affect “unit cohesion and morale” and safety.

(H/T Huffington Post)

>> Click here to watch a video report

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