Religions and Spirituality

Introduction to Ramadan, the Month of Fasting


What is Ramadan?

Millions of Muslims around the world will mark the start of Ramadan — a month of intense prayer, dawn-to-dusk fasting and nightly feasts. Fasting is one of the Five Pillars of the religion of Islam and one of the highest forms of Islamic worship. Abstinence from earthly pleasures and curbing evil intentions and desires is regarded as an act of obedience and submission to Allah as well as an atonement for sins, errors, and mistakes. Called Ramadan, Muslims fast during this month from the moment when it first starts to get light until sunset.  Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar.  Muslims all over the world abstain from eating, drinking, smoking, sexual activity, as well as participating in anything that is ill-natured or excessive.

When is Ramadan?

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Fasting for Ramadan begins at sunrise on May 27.  The first night of prayers is May 26 at 10:00 p.m.  The end of Ramadan is celebrated on June 25.

Why do Muslims fast all day?

Muslims fast as an act of faith and worship toward Allah, seeking to suppress their desires and increase their spiritual piety. Muslims often donate to charities during the month and feed the hungry.  Fasting is an exercise in self-restraint. It’s seen as a way to physically and spiritually detoxify by kicking impulses like morning coffee, smoking and midday snacking.

Ramadan is a time to detach from worldly pleasures and focus on one’s prayers. Many Muslims dress more conservatively during Ramadan and spend more time at the mosque than at any other time of the year.  Fasting during Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam, along with the Muslim declaration of faith, daily prayer, charity, and performing the hajj pilgrimage in Mecca.

How do Muslims fast?

Observant Muslims abstain from eating and drinking from dawn to dusk for the entire month of Ramadan, with a single sip of water or a puff of a cigarette considered enough to invalidate the fast.  Muslim scholars say it’s not enough to just avoid food and drink during the day, though. Spouses must abstain from sexual intercourse during the day, and Muslims should not engage in road rage, cursing, fighting or gossiping.

Muslims are also encouraged to observe the five daily prayers on time and to use their downtime just before breaking their fast at sunset to recite Quran and intensify remembrance of Allah.

To prepare for the fast, Muslims eat what is commonly called “suhoor,” a pre-dawn meal of power foods to get them through the day.

How do Muslims break their fast?

Muslims traditionally break their fast like the Prophet Muhammad did some 1,400 years ago, with a sip of water and some dates at sunset. That first sip of water is by far the most anticipated moment of the day.

After a sunset prayer, a large feast known as “Iftar” is shared with family and friends. Iftar is a social event as much as it is a gastronomical adventure. Across the Arab world, juices made from apricots are a staple at Ramadan Iftars. In South Asia and Turkey, yogurt-based drinks are popular.

Across the Muslim world, mosques and aid organizations set up tents and tables for the public to eat free Iftar meals every night of Ramadan.

Can Muslims be exempted from fasting?

Yes. There are exceptions for children, the elderly, the sick, women who are pregnant or menstruating and people traveling, which could include athletes during tournaments.

Many Muslims, particularly those who live in the U.S. and Europe, are accepting and welcoming of others around them who are not observing Ramadan. They also are not expecting shorter work hours, as is the case in the public sector across much of the Arab world during Ramadan.

What is Eid al-Fitr and How do Muslims mark the end of Ramadan?

The end of Ramadan is marked by intense worship as Muslims seek to have their prayers answered during “Laylat al-Qadr” or “the Night of Destiny.” It is on this night, which falls during the last 10 nights of Ramadan, that Muslims believe that Allah sent the Angel Gabriel to the Prophet Muhammad and revealed the first versus of the Quran.

Some devout Muslims go into reclusion those final days, spending all of their time in the mosque.

The end of Ramadan is celebrated by a three-day holiday called Eid al-Fitr. Children often receive new clothes, gifts and cash.

Muslims attend early morning Eid prayers the day after Ramadan. Families usually spend the day at parks and eating — now during the day.

Eid al-Fitr  “festival of breaking of the fast”, also called Feast of Breaking the Fast, the Sugar Feast, is an important religious holiday celebrated by Muslims worldwide that marks the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting (sawm). The religious Eid is a single day during which Muslims are not permitted to fast. The holiday celebrates the conclusion of the 29 or 30 days of dawn-to-sunset fasting during the entire month of Ramadan. The day of Eid, therefore, falls on the first day of the month of Shawwal. This is a day when Muslims around the world show a common goal of unity. The date for the start of any lunar Hijri month varies based on the observation of new moon by local religious authorities, so the exact day of celebration varies by locality. However, in most countries, it is generally celebrated on the same day.

Muslims believe that they are commanded by Allah, as mentioned in the Quran, to continue their fast until the last day of Ramadan and pay the Zakat efitar ( give money to the poor) before offering the Eid prayers.

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