What is Ramadhan and why do Muslims fast?


I grew up in a community where no one ever asked ‘What is Ramadhan?’ or ‘Why do Muslims fast?’. Many non-Muslims acquaintances or friends in our social circle had relatives who were observant Muslims and it was a part of every day life.

It was only when I moved to the UK in 1999 that I first encountered non-muslims who had no clue about Islam or the way of life of Muslims. My colleagues in the Finance department were very considerate and made an effort not to consume smelly foods in my presence during Ramadan. That was not an easy task working in an open plan office.

I will always fondly remember Steve who from the first day of Ramadhan, brought me a cup of tea and cookies every day at the time of iftar. Also Anna who went out every lunch time for a sandwich, although she much preferred her baked potato cooked in the office microwave.

If you are a Muslim and anticipating the month of Ramadhan then these Tips for a successful Ramadhan may be useful.

What is Ramadhan?

  • Ramadhan is the month during which the Noble Qur’an was revealed to Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings upon him).
  • Ramadhan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar during which fasting became obligatory for Muslims around the world. The fasting commences at dawn to sunset, and lasts for 29 to 30 days.
  • The Night of Power (Lailatul Qadr) was said to have taken place during an odd night in the last 10 days of Ramadhan.
  • The month of Ramadhan is a period of increased religious devotion and deep spiritual reflection and contemplation; of self-restraint and self-control over physical appetites. It is a time during which we strive to guard ourselves against sin and sinful actions while increasing our performance of good deeds. An opportunity to reboot our lives and apply ourselves to consistency and timeliness in our prayers and reading of the Quran.

Why do muslims fast?

In the Qur’an Chapter 2, verses 183-185 Allah says (an interpretation of the meaning):

‘O you who have believed, decreed upon you is fasting as it was decreed upon those before you that you may become righteous –

[Fasting for] a limited number of days. So whoever among you is ill or on a journey [during them] – then an equal number of days [are to be made up]. And upon those who are able [to fast, but with hardship] – a ransom [as substitute] of feeding a poor person [each day]. And whoever volunteers excess – it is better for him. But to fast is best for you, if you only knew.

The month of Ramadhan [is that] in which was revealed the Qur’an, a guidance for the people and clear proofs of guidance and criterion. So whoever sights [the new moon of] the month, let him fast it; and whoever is ill or on a journey – then an equal number of other days. Allah intends for you ease and does not intend for you hardship and [wants] for you to complete the period and to glorify Allah for that [to] which He has guided you; and perhaps you will be grateful.’

  • Fasting during Ramadhan is one of the five pillars of Islam.
  • We fast for the month of Ramadhan because Allah has commanded us to do so, and is an act of worship that believers the world over hasten to obey.
  • Fasting is obligatory on Muslims who have reached puberty and are of sound mind (accountable for their own actions), are in good health, are settled (not travelling) and are able to fast without any impediments (menstruation or postpartum bleeding). Those who are unable to fast are accommodated as indicated in the verses above.
  • We fast to attain Taqwa or God-consciousness, so that we are vigilant and alert to engaging in conduct and actions that please Allah and refrain from doing that which is displeasing to Allah.
  • Those who are able to make up the fasts may do so after Ramadhan and those who are unable to fast, may give a donation of money to feed the needy.

To listen to a recitation while reading a transliteration in your mother tongue, please click here.

Ramadhan facts

Non-Muslims who have little or no contact with Muslims are often under misconceptions about our religion and practices. Many of those are around the month of fasting. Very often our colleagues are curious and eager to learn about our religious practices and rituals, but shy to ask for fear of offending us.

  • Muslims refrain from consuming food or drink, smoking, sexual relations as well as abstaining from any other acts that are forbidden in word and deed, between dawn and sunset, during the month of Ramadhan.
  • However, fasting during Ramadhan is about more than just refraining from food, drink and sexual activity. It is also a time for worship and supplication and presents the perfect opportunity to establish regular compulsory and optional prayers. It is also the time for Muslims to pray for each other and our own redemption so that we may be of the righteous.
  • The month of Ramadhan is an opportunity for personal reflection and to recharge and rejuvenate our faith for the year ahead. We can focus on developing and increasing our level of piety and sincerity in observing rituals that sometimes become habit. It is also about increasing our opportunities for obedience, good deeds and blessings and eliminating bad deeds.

Benefits of fasting the month of Ramadhan

  • We learn self-restraint and to submit to Allah with humility.
  • We have an opportunity to account for and repent for our past sins.
  • We learn to be grateful for our blessings and exercise generosity with loved ones and our communities.
  • We develop empathy for those less fortunate than us from experiencing hunger and thirst.
  • We have an opportunity to revive our commitment to our faith, develop good spiritual habits and relieve ourselves of bad habits.

Recommended acts during Ramadhan

  • Eating a light meal (suhoor) before commencing the fast.
  • Breaking the fast at the time of sunset with dates and water.
  • Reading Quran daily.
  • Increasing the remembrance of Allah.
  • Including superogatory prayers and performing the night prayers of Tarawih and Tahajjud in congregation or at home.
  • Giving extra charity over and above the obligatory charity.
  • Visiting the sick.
  • Providing food for people breaking the fast at sunset.
  • Refrain from anger and unnecessary talk.
  • Thinking and acting positively.

Advice to non-Muslims during Ramadhan

A little bit of communication goes a long way to clearing the misconceptions and I would offer these thoughts:

  • We cannot eat or drink anything from sunrise to sunset. Thanks for offering, but I will have that cup of tea this evening after I break my fast.
  • We don’t expect you to starve yourself on our account. I really don’t care if you eat your breakfast or lunch in the pantry next to my office. The smells bother my guests more than it does me.
  • If you’re irritated or annoyed about something, please do not take your bad mood out on us. We will walk away saying ‘I am fasting’ and live to fight another day.
  • Fasting is not easy, not by a long shot. If we look dull and deflated by midday it’s not because we are hungry and obsessing about food, but because our energy levels are depleted and we probably didn’t get a lot of sleep last night. So please be patient with us if our responses seem muted or slower than normal.
  • As much as Ramadhan is a time for introspection, it is also a time for ensuring the community is in good nick. So you may find an extra helping hand here or there, whether you are Muslim or Non-Muslim.
  • Ramadhan is more than forsaking physical gratification, since everyone is commanded to fast, even those living in poverty. During Ramadhan we are afforded an opportunity to be the best version of ourselves; to reconnect with our spiritual side and to throw off the shackles of our sinfulness.
  • If you speak to a fasting person and feel like you’re going to faint because their breath smells too potent, try not to make a face or pass a disparaging remark. The Prophet (peace and blessings upon him) said, “By Him in Whose Hands my soul is, the smell coming out from the mouth of a fasting person is better in the sight of Allah than the smell of musk. (Allah says about the fasting person), ‘He has left his food, drink and desires for My sake. The fast is for Me. So I will reward (the fasting person) for it and the reward of good deeds is multiplied ten times.” **

Ramadhan food

A few years ago I watched a recording of a call on a television show taped during Ramadhan. One of the callers was located in the famine ravished Somalia. He asked the scholar who was taking questions whether or not his fasting would be accepted if he had nothing to eat. Even now I can’t help but become emotional when I remember the caller’s voice and his fear that his worship would be found lacking.

It was a reminder that we have so many comforts yet are still ungrateful and wasteful. Since then I have tried every year to observe a zero waste Ramadhan as a reminder that although I may not see poverty around me every day, there are millions of people who experience the reality of hunger on a daily basis.

Prior to commencing the day of fasting we eat a meal before the break of dawn. The pre-dawn meal usually includes water and a light meal of nourishing foods, if available.

For breaking the fast a few dates and water and a bowl of nourishing soup or light meal will enable the worshipper to perform the evening prayers without discomfort.

Below are a few Ramadhan recipes for suhoor and iftar. They are less elaborate than most but are tasty, light and nutritious enough to keep me going.

If you have questions about Islam, ask a Muslim. I will attempt to answer any question that is asked with a sincere quest for knowledge and that is not rooted in racism or bigotry.

What is Ramadhan and why do muslims fast?

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** Reference  : Sahih al-Bukhari 1891
In-book reference  : Book 30, Hadith 1
USC-MSA web (English) reference  : Vol. 3, Book 31, Hadith 115

This was first published on 15/06/2015 has since and been updated.















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  • Reply
    May 31, 2017 at 6:19 pm

    Well these recipes look delicious! And I know nothing about Ramahdan. Your pics are so bright and pretty. Love how much you got into detail, too.

    • Reply
      Razena Schroeder
      May 31, 2017 at 11:16 pm

      I am pleased that you found it informative. These photos were taken with natural light only 🙂

  • Reply
    Tina H
    May 28, 2017 at 11:04 am

    Wow. I never knew there is such thing about this culture. I definitely have learned something about this culture and so glad I read through this. Thank you for sharing!

    xo Tina
    IG: @tinasweetheart

  • Reply
    Kimberly Hsieh
    May 27, 2017 at 2:26 am

    I learned a lot from this article! Thank you 🙂

  • Reply
    Lynn Woods
    May 26, 2017 at 11:13 pm

    Thank you for this post. I’ve always had so many questions and you’ve answered them!

    • Reply
      Razena Schroeder
      May 26, 2017 at 11:51 pm

      You are most welcome and I am happy to have been of some assistance, even in a small way.

  • Reply
    Janet Earling-Bencivenni
    May 26, 2017 at 11:09 pm

    Thank you for sharing your customs. Your recipes look absolutely delicious!

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