Ramadan. The holiest month in the Islamic calendar. There is so much to be said about this month that brings excitement and expands further than just fasting – which is usually what people think about when they hear about Ramadan.
When is Ramadan?
This year Ramadan begins on 14 April – it moves ahead ten days each year so luckily it’s not landing on the hottest or longest days of the year. We planned months ago about how we could make the most of this month from a dietary perspective, eat healthily and perhaps lose some weight in the process. It didn’t happen, it never does, but at least our intentions were there!
Because of lockdown we won’t be allowed to break our fasts with our family and friends this year, nor did we last year. It’s a real shame because Ramadan is about sharing these moments with our loved ones, but we make the most of technology and share these moments virtually.
Time to refuel
We have until sunrise to refuel by eating and drinking all of those delicious looking meals we saw on Instagram during daylight hours when our tummies were rumbling. We have from 2.50am until approximately 5.00am to eat and pray the first prayer of the day – the exact time for each prayer changes every day and we are lucky to have the benefit of apps on our phone to keep us right. Our body clocks aren’t tuned for this, my alarm is set for 6.30am for work but rather than dreading it, I think of the benefits.
Our fast begins. No eating, drinking, swearing or complaining – it’s effectively a fast of the body, mind and tongue. Give to charity and complete at least our five prayers in the day. Ramadan is seen as test and a time for self-reflection and spiritual growth as well as a reminder to us about what we have, which we often take for granted, and what is truly important.
My choice to fast
I think about how lucky I have been – I think of my childhood and the days in school when I wasn’t obliged to fast but I did it because I felt I should. We all wanted to be grown-ups back then. I abstained from eating in school and my peers would look on in pity as I tried to reassure them I was ok. My friends offered me a chip and promised ‘they wouldn’t tell’ – I chuckled and loved that they cared, but how would I begin to explain that cheating defeats the purpose?
Looking forward to Iftar
I am a creature of habit – drinking a cup of tea is imbedded in my usual morning routine – but I weaned myself off this two weeks in advance of Ramadan to avoid the dreaded headaches. I look at the clock and my husband is counting down the number of hours until Iftar (the first meal after breaking the fast). This will be approximately 7pm today and we have hours to prepare our meal. But naturally, our stomachs have shrunk so we set our expectations too high and can’t possibly finish all of the food we had hours to prepare.
Sharing with a grateful heart
Nothing gives me more joy than to share Ramadan with non-muslims, so I carefully package leftovers and share them with our neighbours. Who else can we help, is there anyone struggling out there who we can help? I love how fasting shifts my mind-set to consider others before myself.
I read my final prayer of the day and read books to learn more about my faith. Nothing gives me more peace than this time of the day when I can pray for my family and friends and trust that everything will be okay.
The Eid celebration
Tomorrow it starts again, another detox of the mind and body with the intention of coming out of the other end stronger. I use this time for the celebration of Eid al-fitr (which basically means the festival of breaking the fast). Planning and preparation for Eid is always something I look forward to, it mirrors the same excitement Christmas does for Christians as we exchange gifts and eat far too much! Our families are huge, so we use the ‘Secret Santa’ idea to make it more fun and feasible.
Not all Muslims fast during Ramadan
Of course, not all Muslims have to practice fasting during Ramadan – you must be fit and healthy enough to undertake it and children only start fasting when they hit puberty. You also take time off fasting during pregnancy, menstrual cycles or if you are breastfeeding. Many elderly people are unable to fast due to their medication, for example. Your first Ramadan is exciting, it’s something you want to tell everyone about and yet find it difficult to explain. Our mums send us to school with a small snack (just in case).
Fasting in other religions
Interestingly, most world religions mention fasting somewhere in their doctrine – be that Lent in Christianity or Yom Kippur in Judaism and from what I understand, it has the same principles: discipline, appreciation and self-reflection. Outside of religion, fasting has also been incorporated into fitness plans and encouraged a massive ‘detox’ movement in the western world too.
From an Islamic perspective, there are number of guideline principles to follow:
- Fasting begins when a hilal crescent moon is sighted. However, every year there is a bit of confusion as to when this date is – most UK Muslims follow the announcement of Saudi Arabia’s religious leaders. The 30 days of Ramadan that follow represent the 30 chapters of the Qur’an that appeared to Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) in the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, which is dictated by the position of the moon.
- As well as fasting between sunrise and sunset, Muslims must also abstain from smoking and sex. If someone intentionally has daytime sex during Ramadan, they must perform kaffaarah (expiation of the sin) and fast for 60 days or, if unable to, feed 60 poor people.
- If someone eats or drinks because they forgot or were coerced, the fast is still valid but they must continue to abstain.
And finally, I’ll leave you with a polite greeting used during the holy month – ‘Ramadan Mubarak’, which means ‘Have a blessed Ramadan’.