A Guide to the Month of Ramadan
April 28, 2019
Written by Nadia Elamin
When Does Ramadan Occur?
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and is very a significant time for Muslims all over the world. Ramadan officially begins with the sighting of the new moon and then lasts about 29 to 30 days. If you were wondering why Ramadan begins on a different day each year, it is because holidays based on the lunar calendar rotate every year.
What is Fasting? Who is Required to Fast?
During this month, healthy and able adult Muslims fast from dawn until sunset. Muslims not required to fast include those ill (either physically or mentally), pregnant or breastfeeding women, or those traveling. Beginning with the morning prayer at dawn and ending with the evening prayer to sunset, those fasting abstain from all food and drink (no, not even water!)., Fasting involves more restraints, including refraining from sinful acts such as cursing, lying, bad intentions, and more – all are believed to possibly negate the validity of a person’s fast (The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica).
Fast begins with a meal before dawn, called suhoor, which follows the tradition of the Prophet Muhammed (Peace be upon him), but it is not required. Most people break their fast with loved ones at home or at their local mosque. During this month, many mosques provide food (thanks to generous donors and sponsors). Those in need, even if they are not Muslims, are able to come and eat. This meal is referred to as iftar. It is common for Muslims to break their fast with dates, based on the fact that the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) is said to have broken his fast with dates. Even though you may have a big appetite, people often find it difficult to eat a lot during this meal, because their body has gone so long without food.
Why Do Muslims Fast?
Ramadan is a religious, annual observance that is considered to be one of the Five Pillars of Islam and, therefore, obligatory for those who are able to participate. Its significance in Islam stems from the understanding that the Holy Qur’an was revealed to Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) in the month of Ramadan (The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica).
Muslims also fast in order to appreciate the blessings they have been given by temporarily tasting the hunger of the poor. Those fasting are learning the concept of self-restraint and self-discipline– think about how many times you reach for food or a drink in a day without thinking about it. In fact, the word sawm in Arabic means “to refrain”. In addition, Ramadan is supposed to be a month of generosity and giving, in terms of charity, therefore relieving the circumstances of the less fortunate.
Most importantly, Ramadan is a time for Muslims to focus on prayer, reflect on one’s life and behaviors, increase one’s religious knowledge (for example, through reading the Holy Qur’an), cultivate thankfulness for life’s many blessings, and many more productive activities.
Exclusive to Ramadan, Muslims observe a night prayer, called Taraweeh. They observe these prayers as often as they can, hoping to pray on the exact day that the Holy Qur’an was revealed. It is speculated that this day, referred to as the “Night of Power”, or Laylatul al-Qadrin Arabic, lands on the 27thnight of Ramadan.
How Can You Help a Muslim While They Fast?
With 1.8 billion Muslims in the world, it is likely that you will come across a person observing Ramadan. In fact, you may be working with Muslims who are refraining from food and drink during the work day. Think about having to work without any food, or even caffeine!
There are several things you can do to possibly help:
1) give your Muslim co-worker or friend space to pray, if needed
2) ask any and all questions about Ramadan in a respectful and kind manner
3) understand that most Muslims won’t be uncomfortable or angry if you eat in front of
them – simply give them their space
Fasting while working or carrying out daily activities can be quite challenging. Understanding the importance of Ramadan and the physical and mental challenges that come along with it, is one way you can help your Muslim friends/co-workers. Ramadan begins in the United States on Sunday, May 5th, 2019, according to most calculations. Please wish Muslims you know “Ramadan Mubarak!”, meaning “Blessed Ramadan!”
The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. (Ed.). (2019, January 30). Ramadan. Retrieved April 23, 2019, from https://www.britannica.com/topic/Ramadan
Nadia Elamin is a 2017 Abdelkader Global Leadership prize winner. She has recently graduated with a Master of Public and Non-profit Management at the University of Pittsburgh.
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