"What is Ramadan?": The Islamic Holy Month of Fasting
By Amaan Ramzan
The month of Ramadan (the 9th month in the Islamic calendar) represents one of the most blessed months for Muslims. From the UK to Indonesia, Muslims from far and wide embrace the month of Ramadan as a time for self-reflection, spiritual contemplation and to ask for forgiveness from Allah. This is the first of four Ramadan-related posts for the Beyond Margins community, and I thought it would be appropriate to begin by briefly answering four commonly-asked questions about Ramadan. I will try to answer these to the best of my knowledge and will also provide extra resources in case you want to learn more!
Q. When is Ramadan?
Although at the time of writing, Ramadan 2021 (or 1442 if you follow the Islamic calendar) has already begun. However, Ramadan’s start and end dates are never set in stone because the Islamic calendar is purely based upon on the lunar cycle. The lunar year takes 354 days whereas the solar cycle takes 365 days.
Due to this discrepancy, the start and end dates for Ramadan (or indeed any other Islamic month) are never set in stone. For example, in 2020, Ramadan began on Thursday 23rd April. However, in 2021, Ramadan began for (most) Muslims on Tuesday 13th April. This means that each year, the dates for Ramadan essentially move backwards by 10 days.
To try and anticipate the beginning of Ramadan, Muslims will look for the sighting of a crescent-shaped moon. This sighting varies across different countries and even leads to Muslims starting Ramadan on different days within the same country (which happens in the UK). Ramadan lasts for at least 30 days, with healthy adult Muslims obligated to fast for each day from before sunrise to sunset.
Q. Why do Muslims view Ramadan as a blessed month?
Ramadan is the month when our Holy Book, the Qu’ran, was revealed to our Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). The revelation occurred on the ‘Night of Power’, which is believed to have occurred during Ramadan. Hence, as Muslims, we fast during Ramadan to commemorate the revelation of the Qu’ran.
Also, Ramadan is viewed as a month of observance, as Muslims aim to build stronger religious relationships with Allah through prayer, fasting and charitable deeds (amongst other actions). The Qu’ran and Hadith (Islamic scriptures) also establish the importance of Ramadan and justifies the action of fasting in this month.
Q. What rules are there for fasting during Ramadan and why do Muslims fast?
From just before sunrise to sunset, Muslims who fast are not allowed to eat and drink at all (amongst other rules). Among those exempt from fasting are children, the elderly, those who are mentally or physically incapable of fasting, pregnant women, travellers. Healthy adults who miss a fast should try to make it up after Ramadan, however if they cannot, then there is a requirement to provide one needy person with two meals for each missed day of fasting (‘fidya). This act, alongside the payment of zakat (donating 2.5% of a Muslim’s personal wealth to charity) fulfils a pillar of Islam (zakat).
Fasting Muslims make the intention to fast before sunrise, eating a pre-fast meal (suhur) and break their fast at sunset with a meal (iftar).
Fasting makes up a pillar of Islam but it is also meant to remind Muslims of the less fortunate and to reinforce the need to be thankful. As an act of worship, fasting also helps to create self-discipline, learn patience whilst allowing Muslims to get closer to Allah.
Q. When and what is Eid?
There are two Eid’s in the Islamic calendar. The end of Ramadan is celebrated with Eid-ul-Fitr (Festival of Breaking the Fast) during the first three days of Shawwal (the 10th month of the Islamic calendar). Like Ramadan, Eid-ul-Fitr is not set in stone but it is a chance to celebrate with family and friends, often seen as a joyous occasion.
Unfortunately, this year (and in 2020), the pandemic has drastically changed how Muslims observe Ramadan (and probably Eid for 2021). Nevertheless, lockdowns prevent Muslims from seeing family and observing fasts with others outside of their home. However, for some, it may enable greater balance between religious worship, personal and professional life.
Thank you for reading this article, please read the resources below to get more information and I shall be back next Friday with another Ramadan-related article Inshallah (God Willing).
By Amaan Ramzan.