A whole month? NOT EVEN WATER?!!!

mosque-2290299_960_720It’s that time of year again where the Muslim community come together to celebrate the holiest of months in the Muslim calendar, Ramadan. As a Muslim living in the West, I’m often met with puzzlement as to what is Ramadan and how it’s observed. So, in light of Ramadan, I’ve decided to answer the most frequently asked questions I receive on a yearly basis along with general questions that may arise!

  1. What is Ramadan?
    • Ramadan is considered the holiest of months in the Muslim calendar. It is believed that in this month, the holy book called the Quran, was written. As such, Muslims tend to read verses of the Quran on the daily, as part of their Ramadan ritual. The aim is to finish the book within the 29-30 days of Ramadan. During this month, Muslims also refrain from all food and beverages from dusk to dawn.
  2. When does it start? 
    • The Muslim calendar is generally 10 days shorter than the normal calendar. So, every year, Ramadan is expected 10 days earlier than the previous year. The Muslim calendar is heavily based on lunar observations. Thus, the first sightings of the moon indicates the start of a new month, whilst a full moon indicates that we’re half way through a particular month. So, Ramadan is confirmed when the first moon-sighting is observed following the month of Shaban (the 27th May this year).
  3. What happens during Ramadan?
    • A whole lot can happen during Ramadan, and it varies significantly from country to country and even from household to another. Generally, the day starts with “Sahoor” or “Sehiri” (different people call it different names) – this is the meal you have before starting your fast. Morning prayers follow (around 3am during this time of year) and the fast begins prior to the prayer. The fast is broken at dawn (around 10pm during this time of year), this is called the “iftar” or the breakfast and traditionally water and dates are consumed before heading off for prayer. This varies significantly across the border but most Muslims would include dates and water as part of their iftar. Once prayer is over the main dinner is had, which can be just about anything and everything and personally, my favourite part happens to be the dessert after! Food is usually followed by “dua’a” or supplication and some families may choose to read the Quran together.
    • Depending on where in the world you are, or what are your family traditions or even cultures, some people may choose to do their prayers, their dua’a and the reading of the Quran at a mosque.
    • Traditionally, back home, iftar parties are a significant part of Ramadan where people cook different dishes and gather over dinner together. There’s also a huge community involvement whereby households would cook extra food and share platters with their neighbours. No one knows what goes on behind closed doors and in this way, people who may not be able to afford food or are unable to feed themselves due to illness or other reasons are fed without embarrassment.
  4. Why is Ramadan so important for Muslims?
    • Ramadan is a month of giving and forgiving. Muslims are encouraged to carry out charitable work, be it feeding the homeless, working with charity organisations or simply donating money. They’re also encouraged to let go of the past and forgive those who have done them wrong.
    • Personally, I see Ramadan as almost a cleanse of the soul. You’re constantly encouraged to focus on your spiritual development and improving who you are as a person. As well as refraining from food, Ramadan is a month where you’re supposed to refrain from backbiting, negativity, and general undesirable things. It is hoped that in focusing on your spiritual well-being, you would be able to carry your good deeds forward for life.
    • The most important aspect of Ramadan, I feel, is the abstinence from food. To me, it’s such a major wake up call because I develop compassion towards those who cannot feed themselves or their families. I consider myself lucky that unlike the poor and the homeless, I will have a hot meal at the end of my day.
  5. You’re fasting for a whole month? You can’t eat? NOT EVEN WATER?!!!
    • Ramadan is observed for 29-30 days, a month, but our fast isn’t 30 days long. As mentioned above, we only fast from dusk til dawn, which is approximately 19 hours in Ireland in this time of year. This gives us about 5 hours in a day to eat.
    • During our fast, no food or beverages are allowed to be consumed. And no, not even water! I know this sounds crazy and difficult, but it’s a true test of constraint.
  6. Does everyone fast?
    • Nope – not everybody. If you’re worried about the lack of food and water, stop worrying. It’s actually forbidden to fast if the fast is going to any way hinder your health. For example, those who are diabetic are discouraged from fasting, so are women who are menstruating, pregnant women, the elderly and children who have not yet reached pubescent years, etc…
  7. What happens at the end of Ramadan?
    • At the end of Ramadan, Muslims celebrate the first day of Shawaal, or Eid Al-Fitr. On this day, Muslims no longer have to fast and generally head to the mosque for Eid prayers. After Eid prayers different people celebrate in different ways. This generally includes lunch with friends and family as well as family visits or outings. On Eid, everyone dresses in their finest and newest of clothes, as you would for Christmas. Traditionally, back home, the elders tend to give money to the younger generations as a sort of present, while kids get treated to both money and toys!

 

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