So you’re a Muslim in a non-Muslim majority country huh? Me too. And chances are, a good portion of your friends are non-Muslim, right? Same. During the month of Ramadan, it can be sometimes frustrating when your friends are constantly inviting you to lunch or out for ice cream, your coworkers keep asking why you seem a little more tired during the day than usual, and everyone you tell, “Sorry, I’m fasting for Ramadan.” responds with, “Oh.. Okay..”
The reality is that most of our non-Muslim friends might not know what exactly Ramadan is (some don’t even know it exists) and feel confused or don’t know about fasting and other Ramadan traditions. And that’s why we have created this guide! Feel free to quote us, post this to your Facebook, or email to your friends, hopefully it can provide a basic understanding of this holy time.
So what even is Ramadan?
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, during which Muslims believe Allah (Arabic word for God) revealed the first verses of the Qur'an, the holy book of Islam. To acknowledge and celebrate the revelation of the Qur’an, Muslims intensely pray, fast (no food or water), and reflect for one month. Ramadan begins at the sighting of a full moon, which marks the start of the ninth month. Because the start of Ramadan relies on the sighting of a full moon, the starting date of Ramadan sometimes varies by a day or two depending on the country and region of the world.
Okay, praying makes sense but why fasting?
Fasting reminds Muslims of the suffering of the poor and hungry. It reminds us that we are all human and need to help people who are less fortunate. Fasting is also a way for us to physically and spiritually purify our bodies, in an effort to feel closer with God. During Ramadan, most Muslims also donate to charities and feed the hungry. Fasting isn’t just limited to eating and drinking habits however. Muslims are encouraged to also avoid gossip and arguments, swearing, and anger or annoyance. Sexual intercourse between spouses is also forbidden during the daytime fast.
When do you start and stop fasting?
Fasting begins at sunrise and ends at sunset. At sunset when fasting ends, Muslims usually break the fast with dates (a sweet dried fruit) and milk. This “meal” provides simple sugars and a quick boost of energy and is how traditionally Muslims break the fast. After the dates and milk, there is usually an iftar, or large dinner. Iftar is usually had each night with family, extended family, friends, or community members. It is comparable to Thanksgiving, but with different foods.
What about children do they have to fast?
No, there are several situations that fasting can be broken. Children, elderly, sickly, pregnant women, and menstruating women are exempt from fasting. In Islam, the preservation of human life is always the most important. If fasting can cause harm, then it is not required.
What happens after a month at the end of Ramadan?
At the end of Ramadan, there is a big holiday called Eid. Eid lasts for three days and Muslims usually attend morning Eid prayers the day after Ramadan. Families usually spend the day picnicking and eating during the day.
Make sense? Remember, most Muslim friends are happy to answer kind questions about Ramadan or Islam. We, Muslims living in non-Muslim majority countries, don’t expect our friends to understand or know about all of our traditions so we are happy to help you understand! Ramadan Mubarak! (Happy Ramadan!)