Like myself, Muslims around the world take part in the holy month of Ramadan each year. This article sums up everything you need to know about it, and then some.
So, what is Ramadan?
To make things simple, Ramadan is the month-long period in which Muslims fast. It is the fourth pillar of Islam, falling under Sawm. Ramadan falls under the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, a system that is based on the cycles and changes of the moon. As the Islamic calendar is shorter than the Gregorian calendar that we typically use, the dates do tend to change each year.
In 2023, Ramadan takes place between Wednesday 22nd March and Friday 21st April.
How does one fast in Ramadan?
During the month of Ramadan, it is recommended to pray what is known as Taraweeh the night before completing your fast. A meal called Sehri or Suhoor is usually eaten before the sun comes up. My family and I tend to go all out and have an actual meal since we are all quite big foodies, but it really is down to whatever you would like to eat. The actual fast lasts from sunrise until sunset and is broken with a meal called Iftar.
It is important to note that not everyone is entitled to keep their fasts during Ramadan! Those who are elderly, pregnant, nursing or ill do not have to. There are also exceptions for those who are menstruating or travelling.
Why do Muslims fast during Ramadan?
Observing fasts during Ramadan is a highly spiritual and personal act for Muslims. It unifies the community as those who are both rich and poor follow the same daily routine for the month. Fasting also helps increase our faith – also known as deen.
In order to fast, Muslims do have to refrain from more than just food and water. I always consider Ramadan a time to self-discipline oneself in terms of both mind and matter. Acts such as smoking, cursing, backbiting and gossip are also off the table! Complete zen mode. A mental and physical detox, if you will. By gaining this stronger sense of piety, Muslims believe that we are able to work on the habits that make us vulnerable to sins.
A typical day for me during Ramadan
By default, I take the idea of a zen Ramadan way too seriously. I like to think of Ramadan as a way for me to take a step back and really improve myself as a person. This comes in the form of lots of prayer and self-care. If there is one thing I love about Ramadan, I now hold the power to have lie-ins… guilt-free. Late nights are bound to bring on late mornings. Once I do drag myself out of bed, I try to do whatever is on my to-do list while the sun is bright and beaming.
After that is done and out of the way, I focus on my more spiritual list. Every Ramadan, I like to set a goal of reading the entire Qur’an once. It’s quite intimidating at first but once I fall into a routine, it becomes a lot more natural. If I am not reading Qur’an, my next priority is increasing my knowledge of Islam. Typically, there are lectures and talks that take place within mosques but due to COVID-19 (sigh!), these are not likely to take place. However, YouTube does have plenty of pre-recorded lectures that are easily accessible instead. Bonus points, you can search for specific topics that you are interested in too!
As it gets closer to sunset, the preparations for Iftar begin. The meal depends on whatever we are feeling but it’s usually a rice dish of some sort and fried snacks. Any samosa fans out there? One thing that stays constant when we break our fasts, however, is the plate of dates that we share each night. The tradition comes from our Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) who advised us to break each fast with dates and water.
Once Iftar is well and truly digested, we pray Taraweeh which was mentioned earlier. I prefer praying within the comfort of my own home, but anyone is welcome to congregate within the mosque to pray with the community. From there, many spend the hours before Suhoor catching up on sleep, reading Qur’an or just relaxing. My friends and I dedicate those late-night hours to socialise before eating whatever we can manage. No sleep for the wicked.
Tips on how to get involved during Ramadan
You do not have to be Muslim to take part during the month! Many individuals of all beliefs like to take part in Ramadan. Here is how you can participate:
- Attempt a fast from dawn until dusk – not as intimidating as it seems, I promise! Treat yourself to your favourite breakfast (make sure it is filling!) and try abstaining from food and drink until the sunsets.
- Learn a bit more about Islam – so many different ways to do this! From the comfort of your own bed, you can watch online talks or, if you are feeling a bit braver, venture into your local mosque and have a chat with the Imam. Everyone is always welcome; just make sure they are open within your local lockdown restrictions.
- Treat someone to their Iftar – charity is also a fundamental aspect of Ramadan. It is important to be mindful to be just as aware of the struggle of others as well as your own. Many organisations take donations in order to provide the poor with meals for them to break their fasts. Muslim Hands has a project named “Iftar Fund” that specifically helps this cause.
- Change lifestyle habits that may hold you back – feeling like you need a slight refresh? Try something new. If praying is not your thing, try meditating for twenty minutes each day. Cut out things that might make you feel a bit down such as gossiping about others. This month is all about being the best version of you!