I grew up in a community where no one ever asked ‘What is Ramadhan and why do Muslims fast?’, because many non-muslims in our social circle had friends or 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 so considerate and made an effort not to consume smelly foods in my presence. That was not easy task since we worked in an open plan office. I will always fondly remember Steve who brought me a cup of tea and cookies every day at the time of iftar. Also Anna who went out every lunch time, although she much preferred her baked potato cooked in the office microwave.
What is Ramadhan?
Ramadhan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar during which Muslims the world over observe fasting from dawn to sunset and lasts for 29 to 30 days. It is also the month during which the Noble Qur’an was revealed to Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings upon him).
It is a period of increased religious devotion and deep spiritual reflection and contemplation; of self-restraint and self-control over physical appetites. 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?
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. 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.
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 below.
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.’
Those who are able to make up the fasts may do so after Ramadhan and those who are unable to, may give a donation of money to feed the needy.
What I want you to know about Ramadhan
I read an article called ‘8 things I wish Non-Muslims new about Ramadan’. Although it gave me a giggle as I could identify with and have experienced every single one on the list, it did also give me pause for thought. We seldom, if ever raise the points mentioned in the article or discuss them with our non-muslim colleagues or acquaintances. A little bit of communication goes a long way to clearing the misconceptions.
- 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.
- Thanks for offering, but I will have that cup of tea this evening after I break my fast.
- Fasting is not easy, not by a long shot. So if you’re irritated or annoyed about something, please do not take your bad mood out on us. We’ll walk away saying ‘I am fasting’ and live to fight another day.
- 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 a helping hand here or there.
- 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.” **
How does fasting work during Ramadhan?
Between dawn and sunset 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.
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.
It is an opportunity for personal reflection and to recharge and rejuvenate our faith for the year ahead, and develop and increase 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.
In addition to reading Quran daily, increasing the remembrance of Allah and including superogatory prayers, one may give extra charity over and above the obligatory charity; visit the sick; provide food for people breaking the fast at sunset; perform the night prayers; refrain from anger and unnecessary talk; and thinking and acting positively. This article is an excellent guide to Ramadan Resolutions.
What do Muslims eat during Ramadhan?
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.
A few years ago I watched a recording of a call in television show taped during Ramadhan when 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.
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.
I would like to share my Ramadhan recipes for suhoor and iftar below. They are less elaborate than most but are tasty, light and nutritious enough to keep me going.
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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.