Why does it have to be in summer? Is it safe? What happens if you cheat? There’s a handy list of questions about Ramadan you’re too embarrassed to ask.
- What is Ramadan?
Ramadan is actually the ninth month in the Islamic calendar (which is the Hijri calendar). It’s believed to be the most holy month in the calendar for Muslims as they believe their holy book, the Qur’an, was revealed in this month.
- Muslims don’t eat in Ramadan for 30 days. Is it safe?
That’s right. During Ramadan everyone who’s hit puberty (barring those that are suffering from an illness, such as diabetes, are pregnant or are menstruating) is meant to not consume any food or liquid between dawn and sunset. Not even water.
It is safe as only those who are healthy and fit are meant to fast. This excludes children, the elderly, pregnant women, and anyone who is ill. If you’re ill or have a job that requires you to exert a lot of energy, it’s generally considered OK to not fast that day. Instead you’re meant to “make up” the fast at a later date.
This means the Muslim football players such as France’s Karim Benzema or Germany’s Mesut Ozil, who both featured at last year’s World Cup in Brazil, don’t have to fast when they’re playing intense games of football and should instead carry out the fasts later in the year by way of compensation.
- How does fasting work?
The practice of fasting serves several spiritual and social purposes: to remind you of your human frailty and your dependence on God for sustenance, to show you what it feels like to be hungry and thirsty so you feel compassion for (and a duty to help) the poor and needy, and to reduce the distractions in life so you can more clearly focus on your relationship with God.
Muslims are also supposed to try to curb negative thoughts and emotions like jealousy and anger, and even lesser things like swearing, complaining, and gossiping, during the month. Some people may also choose to give up or limit activities like listening to music and watching television, often in favor of listening to recitations of the Quran.
- What is a typical day like during Ramadan?
During Ramadan, Muslims wake up well before dawn to eat the first meal of the day, which has to last until sunset. This means eating lots of high-protein foods and drinking as much water as possible right up until dawn, after which you can’t eat or drink anything. At dawn, we perform the morning prayer. Since it’s usually still pretty early, many go back to sleep for a bit before waking up again to get ready for the day (I certainly do).
Muslims are not supposed to avoid work or school or any other normal duties during the day just because we are fasting. In many Muslim countries, however, businesses and schools may reduce their hours during the day or close entirely. For the most part, though, Muslims go about their daily business as we normally would, despite not being able to eat or drink anything the whole day.
When the evening call to prayer is finally made (or when the alarm on your phone’s Muslim prayer app goes off), we break the day’s fast with a light meal — really more of a snack — called an iftar (literally “breakfast”), before performing the evening prayer. Many also go to the mosque for the evening prayer, followed by a special prayer that is only recited during Ramadan.
This is usually followed by a larger meal a bit later in the evening, which is often shared with family and friends in one another’s homes throughout the month. Then it’s off to bed for a few hours of sleep before it’s time to wake up and start all over again.
- Do you lose weight?
After fasting you typically eat more than you would usually, even if you’re already full.
Many people also eat fulfilling meals both in the evening and in the early hours of the morning, knowing they won’t get to eat until the next evening. This is especially true in countries like the United Kingdom and the USA, where the length of the day is extremely long. For an insight, some in the U.K. believe dawn to be as early as 1:05 a.m. and sunset is after 9:15 p.m. That’s a little more than 19 hours.
- What’s with the sweets at the end?
At the end of Ramadan there’s a big celebration, Eid al-Fitr, when families come together to spend time with one another. The typical Eid day goes like this:
First families will go to the mosque where they will take part in Eid prayers in the morning, immediately after the morning prayers, and also have some food. It’s a relaxing affair and many wear traditional garments to the mosque. After this many families will go to the cemetery and remember close ones that they have lost.
This is followed by a big family gathering with a lot of food. People from different countries and cultures will typically eat a very specific meal every Eid although desserts are a great mixture of foods from the likes of baklava (a sweet Arab pastry) to cheesecake.