If you’ve been hearing the word “Ramadan” during the last week or so, you might be thinking, “What’s Ramadan? Why do Muslims celebrate it?” If you are Muslim, please accept our heartfelt Ramadan Mubarak (have a blessed Ramadan)! For those of you who don’t know much about Ramadan *yet*, we wanted to answer some of the common questions non-Muslims have about this wonderful holy month.
1. What’s Ramadan about?
Ramadan is the most sacred month of the entire year for followers of Islam. The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH: Peace Be Upon Him) reportedly said, “When the month of Ramadan starts, the gates of heaven are opened and the gates of Hell are closed and the devils are chained.”
It is said that during this month Allah (God) revealed the first verses of the Qur’an (Islam’s central religious text) to the Prophet in 610 CE, on a night known as “The Night of Power” (or Laylat al-Qadr in Arabic).
2. Why do Muslims fast every day?
Fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam. All Muslims should take part in fasting unless they are too young, sick pregnant or nursing, menstruating, traveling, or very old.
The practice of fasting serves numerous spiritual and social purposes such as reminding yourself of your weaknesses and how you should depend on God for strength, which will further develop your relationship with God.
Fasting reminds you what it is like to be thirsty and hungry, so you will feel compassion and a duty to help those less fortunate than yourself.
3. Those who are fasting can drink water, right?
Actually, no. During the month of Ramadan, many Muslims will not eat any food, drink any liquids, smoke cigarettes, or take part in any sexual activity during the fasting period. Muslims are also expected to abstain from gossip and cursing.
4. When do Muslims actually get to eat?
The fast occurs from the day break until the night falls; there are debates whether this time should be referred to as “sunrise to sunset” or from “dawn until dusk”. The pre-dawn meal (suhoor) that many Muslims consume gives them strength before the morning prayer and to last throughout the day. The evening meal to break the fast is called iftar (also known as fatoor).
5. How long does Ramadan last?
For one month. Muslims follow a lunar calendar whose 12 months add up to approximately 354 days, which is 11 days shorter than the standard Gregorian calendar comprised of 365 days. This means that the Islamic lunar calendar “goes backward” approximately 11 days every year.
Therefore, the 1st day of the month of Ramadan, which is the 9th month of the Islamic lunar calendar, moves backward by about 11 days each year. In some northern European countries such as Norway, Sweden and Iceland, Muslims might fast an average of 20 hours or more during the summer months!
6. Everyone who fasts surely loses a lot of weight?
Actually, many people tend to gain weight during Ramadan because they are more sedentary during the daytime and eat richer food than normal during the evening. Most Muslims eat the majority of their calories at night, right before they go to sleep.
7. So, Ramadan is only about sawm (fasting)?
Ramadan is about much more than fasting. It is an obligation for Muslims to give charity on a regular basis in the form of either Zakat (mandatory giving) or Sadaqa (voluntary giving), which is meant to go beyond mere religious obligations; many believe such forms of charity benefits the giver and the receiver, both mentally and spiritually.
During the holy month, the rewards of charity are considered greater and a result, many Muslims will choose to donate more. Many restaurants and organizations also distributes free iftar meals to the poor.
8. After all that hard work, is there a celebration at the end?
The end of Ramadan is marked by Eid al-Fitr (the Festival of the Breaking of the Fast; also spelled as Eid ul-Fitr), which is a large 3 day celebration that marks the end of the fasting period. The celebration begins as soon as the new moon is seen in the sky.
During Eid, most Muslims celebrate by attending large festivals, giving presents, sporting their best attire, spending time with their loved ones, and having a large meal during the day.
Muslims should contribute money and/or food to charity so the poor can also celebrate the breaking of the fast. Many festivals and events include Arabic arts, food, parades, crafts, delicious sweets, games. Muslims will praise God for helping them get through the month and might also ask for forgiveness for any sins they committed during Ramadan.
Join in on the fun! In many large cities around the world there will be several opportunities for you to attend iftar. Chances are you will be able to try traditional foods from different Muslim cultures and hear beautiful music, see traditional Muslim fashion, and gain new experiences you’ll cherish for a long time to come.
Do you have any more questions about Ramadan or Eid al-Fitr? Do you think we forgot to mention something important? Please get in touch! Also, if you would like us to mention specific topic in our next newsletter, let us know.