The Islamic holy month of Ramadan
As some of you may know, 13 April 2021 will see the beginning of the Holy month of Ramadan, which approximately 1.9 billion Muslims worldwide will be observing. But what is Ramadan? Why do people fast and what are the rules? This article will provide an insight into why these 30 days of the year are so important to Muslims.
What is Ramadan?
Ramadan is the month of ‘sawm’ (fasting), prayer and reflection for the Islamic community. It is said to be the month in which the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) received the revelations of the Quran, the Islamic Holy book. Sawm makes up one of the five pillars of Islam, with the others being professing of faith (shahada), prayer, charitable giving, and pilgrimage (or Hajj).
In practising sawm, Muslims who are healthy enough to fast will do so from sunrise to sunset. Those fasting abstain from eating and drinking. In order to assist with their fast, many Muslims wake up before the sun rises in order to eat a pre-dawn meal, or suhoor.
Once we have completed our fast, families usually gather to break their fast, or have iftar. Traditionally, many Muslims break their fast with a date and a cup of water, as it is said that is what the Prophet did.
Ramadan is much more than fasting, however. During this month, Muslims should abstain from sinning in general. To name a few, we are encouraged not to get angry, gossip or swear. We are also encouraged to meet our five prayers on time, give to charity (zakat) and read the Quran.
When is Ramadan?
Ramadan is part of the lunar calendar, and so its date changes annually. Muslims usually determine when Ramadan will begin by waiting for the new month’s moon to appear. This year it is estimated to begin on 13 April 2021, and as lunar months usually last between 29 to 30 days, we can also estimate when Eid al-Fitr will fall. This is the celebration that marks the end of Ramadan.
Why do Muslims fast during Ramadan?
By fasting during Ramadan, it is believed that Muslims may devote themselves completely to their faith and come closer to Allah (swt) (God). It is a form of spiritual discipline, and helps us reflect on the fortunes we have that many others across the world do not have, such as easy access to food and clean water.
The Holy month of Ramadan may leave many questions for those who have not taken part in it. I have set out a list of questions I have received personally whilst fasting:
- So, you can’t even drink water? Unfortunately not. Muslims are required to fast completely, and so you are not allowed to eat or drink.
- Does every Muslim have to fast? Those who are ill, pregnant or nursing, menstruating or travelling, very young or very old should not fast.
- Is fasting good for the body? Fasting is not suitable for everyone, and there will always be risks especially if you are not having a proper suhoor. However, experts have found that fasting can prevent health issues such as high cholesterol, heart disease and obesity. It also removes toxins from the body as we give the digestive system a rest. It has also found to improve mental wellbeing.
- What happens if you forget you’re fasting and you eat / drink? If it is a genuine mistake and the person had no intention of breaking their fast, you may continue fasting. It is only when you intentionally do it that you have broken your fast.
- Sawm – the act of fasting.
- Pbuh – peace be upon him. Muslims say this after saying the Prophet’s name as a sign of respect.
- Shahada – the declaration of faith; ‘there is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah’.
- Hajj – the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca. Muslims are expected to make at least one pilgrimage in their lifetime if they are able to do so.
- Suhoor – the meal consumed by Muslims before the sun rises during Ramadan. This helps to maintain their fast.
- Iftar – the meal Muslims eat to break their fast when the sun sets.
- Zakat – charitable giving.
- Eid al-Fitr – the celebration of the end of the month of Ramadan. This is separate to Eid al-Adha, which is commonly known as the Festival of Sacrifice.
- Swt – this stands for subhanahu wa ta’ala in Arabic, which translates to ‘the most glorified, the most high’. Again, it is said as a sign of respect.