Ramadan is the ninth month in the Muslim calendar and is considered especially holy for several reasons. Koran, the holy book, was first revealed to prophet Muhammed during the last ten days of this month.

Ramadan Begins

Dates are a popular Ramadan fruit

According to the Koran, the gates of heaven are open, the gates of hell are closed, and the devils are chained up in hell during Ramadan. Since the devils are locked away, it’s easier to do good in this month, thus, dedicated Muslims are expected to donate to a charity or offer their time to help the poor, for example. Every year, the UK holds campaigns to promote safe ways of donating to charities in order to avoid scams and fake charities during Ramadan.

Most people know Ramadan best for the tradition of fasting. Fasting during Ramadan is one of the Five Pillars, or fundamental duties, of Islam. It is common to fast during the daylight hours, although there is sometimes confusion around the beginning and the end of each daily fast. For this year’s Ramadan, you can find an accurate time table for each UK city, here.

Today is Commonwealth Day:

Westminster Abbey

a day to celebrate the 54 independent states of which the British Commonwealth consists off. Out of these 54 states all but Mozambique and Rwanda were officially part of the British Empire.

Commonwealth Day is always celebrated on the second Monday in March. It is not a day to simply celebrate diversity, but also a day to promote international cooperation which aims to improve the lives of citizens in Commonwealth countries.

Commonwealth Day is always marked by a multi-faith service in Westminster Abbey in London, in which the Queen gives a speech that is often broadcasted throughout the world.

Maya Angelou, an award-winning American poet and author, was once quoted for saying:

“How important it is for us to recognize and celebrate our heroes and she-roes!” The media is full of heroes every day, but today is the day that the world celebrates our she-roes: it’s International Women’s Day!

Women's Day

In some countries, Women's Day is a political event.

Today a part of the Muslim world celebrates Milad un Nabi (or Mawlid), the birthday of the Muslim prophet Muhammed.

Children celebrating Milad un Nabi in India.

This celebration, 4th of February, is slightly controversial because some Muslims don’t believe that celebrating birthdays is necessary, or even permissible. Despite the divided opinions, however, the majority of Muslims agree that the birth of Muhammed was the most significant event in Islamic history. Thus, those who celebrate it do so with great enthusiasm.

Saudi-Arabia is the only Muslim country where Milad un Nabi is not an official public holiday. In others, Milad un Nabi is sometimes celebrated in a carnival manner.  Streets and mosques are decorated, parents tell their children stories about different aspects of the prophet’s life, and many people donate money, clothes, and food to charity. Milad un Nabi is also celebrated in countries such as India, Indonesia, Russia,Canada, as well as here in the UK.

Makar Sankranti is one of the most important Hindu celebrations. It is perhaps the only Hindu festival which falls on the same date every year, on January 14th.

Makar Sankranti is a joyous occasion because it celebrates the sun god’s journey to the northern hemisphere. The sun and its journey represent spiritual light, knowledge, and virtue, but the day is also a harvest festival.

Makar Sankranti celebrations vary greatly across India, but one of the most popular activities during this time is to fly kites. Watch this video clip on to see how one Indian town celebrates Makar Sankranti:

In the United Nations Millennium Declaration, 189 world leaders identified solidarity as one of the fundamental values essential to international relations in the 21st century.

International Human Solidarity Day promotes unity in diversity.

International Human Solidarity Day was proclaimed on December 22nd, in 2005, and first celebrated in 2006.

Today, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon highlighted the benefits of inclusive cooperation, saying that strides made in reducing poverty and advancing democratic freedoms in recent years were proving that point. In his annual statement, Mr. Ban said “We can reach our shared goals if people are able to participate in the formulation and implementation of plans, policies and programmes to shape our common future.”

Activities on the International Human Solidarity Day may include campaigning for the following issues:

  • Banning land mines.
  • Making health and medication accessible to those in need.
  • Relief efforts to help those who suffered the effects of natural or human-made disasters.
  • Achieving universal education.
  • Fighting against poverty, corruption and terrorism.

Today is Human Rights Day! The day commemorates the date in 1948 when the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Today, the declaration is available in 360 languages, with new translations still being added.

Human Rights Day

781 million adults across the globe cannot read or write.

This year’s theme for Human Rights Day is “My Voice Counts.” The United Nations has been hosting a series of Google+ hangouts since November 22nd, giving the public a chance to engage with senior UN officials and leading experts on the rights of minorities, persons with disabilities, to discuss the impact of business on human rights, and beyond.

Although there have been great advancements in gender and race equality since 1948, human rights violations still happen every day all around the world. According to the Amnesty International annual report, in 2006, 20,000 people were on death row. 69 countries still use the death penalty. Similarly, in 2006, 1 in 3 women had been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused.

Today is Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights.

Hanukkah

Hanukkah is celebrated by lighting one candle on the Hanukiah each day.

Hanukkah dates back two centuries before Christianity and literally means rededication. Hanukkah symbolizes how God looked after Jewish people in hard times.

The story goes that an ancient king in Syria tried to make Jewish people worship Greek gods. He built a statue of one Greek god in a big Jewish temple and ordered people to bow to it. The Ten Commandments forbid the worshipping of idols and the Jewish people refused. Three years of war and unrest followed these events. Eventually, lead by a small group called the Maccabees, Jewish people claimed back Jerusalem from the Syrians. Their temple, however, was destroyed. Jewish people then rebuilt the temple and purified it by burning ritual oil.

The purification of the temple marks one of the biggest miracles in Jewish history: only a small amount of oil was found (enough to last for a day) but the lamp in the temple burned a total of eight days.

Volunteer

Today is the International Volunteer Day!

The day aims to thank all volunteers for their efforts, and to highlight the importance of volunteer work in promoting peace and sustainable development across the globe.

International Volunteer Day holds a special importance for me. My first experience of real volunteer work happened, not so long ago, in 2009. I was on my last year in high school and decided to join the school’s Habitat for Humanity club. Habitat for Humanity is an organization that aims to help “families escape the nightmare of housing poverty.” Our high school club arranged various fundraising events throughout the school year, and in May ten of us travelled to Krabi, Thailand to help rebuild a home to one of the families who lost their house in a tsunami a couple of years before. For me the experience was both fun and exciting, but I now feel that I didn’t understand the full meaning of our work until much later.

Today is the International Day for Persons with Disabilities.

According to World Health Organization (WHO), 15% of the world’s population has a disability. That means one billion people worldwide, out of which 11 million reside in the UK.

The UN first established the International Day for Persons with Disabilities in 1992, and originally the day was called International Day of Disabled Persons. The UN day aims to promote understanding of disabilities worldwide, “and mobilise support for the dignity, rights and well-being of persons with disabilities.” In addition, the day  “seeks to increase awareness of gains to be derived from the integration of persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life.”

Each year focuses on a different issue around disabilities. The theme for 2012 is “Removing barriers to create an inclusive and accessible society for all.”

Read more about disability and health, as well as the International Day for Persons with Disabilities, here.

Or, browse the BBC disability blog, Ouch! here.