Ramadan for dummies

Samira Kassem

Illustration: Samira Kassem

What is Ramadan? 

Ramadan is the month when the Qur’an–the holy book of Islam–was first revealed. It is said that Allah (the Arabic word for God) stated that this month shall be special to honor and commemorate the Qur’an. During Ramadan, Muslims participate in the ultimate exercise in self control by fasting for a month from sunrise to sunset. Fasting involves refraining from food, drink and intercorse as they align with the three strongest desires of the human. Those fasting are also required to abstain from caffeine, smoking and gossip. Some more religious Muslims will also abstain from listening to music. This is meant to teach self control that is to be applied to other aspects of the person’s life. Participating in Ramadan is meant to make the person more conscious of God in their daily lives so that they are able to practice self-control when tempted by evil. Fasting is also said to help the person be reminded of the suffering of those who are less fortunate. Fasting during Ramadan is one of the five pilars of Islam required of all practicing Muslims. 

When is Ramadan? 

Ramadan is the ninth month on the Islamic calendar which is a lunar calendar of 12 months. This means that the actual dates on the Gregorian calendar used in the Western world will change from year to year. In the Islamic calendar, a new month starts as the new crescent moon emerges. This year, Ramadan began on Monday, April 12 and is expected to be complete on Tuesday, May 11. Last year, Ramadan in the United States began on Thursday, April 23. In majority-Muslim countires, people look to moon sighters who are tasked with determining when the month begins and finishes. Some countries like Saudi Arabia use infrared cameras to capture the new moon. 

Who celebrates Ramadan? 

Ramadan is a celebration that practicing Muslims participate in each year. Since fasting can be very hard on the body, there are rules on who can fast and who cannot. For example, pregnant women, people who are travelling, people who are ill and children under the age of 10 are excused from fasting. Women who are menstruating are also excused from fasting but make these days up either at the start or end of the month. 

An entire month?

Yep, 29 to 30 days from sunrise to sunset. Muslims will wake up around three or four in the morning in order to have a predawn meal called suhoor. Suhoor often includes healthy foods to sustain you throughout the day and drinking a lot of water. They will then fast the entire day until the sun sets. At sunset, Muslims break their fast by having a sip of water and some dates. This is the way that the Prophet Mohammad broke his fast thousands of years ago. After breaking fast, they will gather with friends and family to pray before finishing the day with a large feast called iftar.  

How can you support your Muslim friends during Ramadan?

First of all, not every Muslim is always in the mood to answer your three million questions about why they are not eating. Make an effort to educate yourself and respect the boundaries of those who are participating. Do not express shock or disbelief when you hear that someone is not eating or drinking for the entire day. This is a religious practice that is no less normal than you giving up something for lent and Muslims should not be made to feel that what they are doing is abnormal. Never EVER ask a Muslim why they are not fasting. There are many reasons why they may not be and it is frankly not your business. There is no need to treat the person differently or change your habits around them. The point is to practice self control so if you eat in the office every day and your Muslim coworker can see, there is no need to change that unless the person asks you to. Do not “fast in solidarity with them” or mention that they must lose a lot of weight. Overall, be understanding and willing to listen and learn.