What is Ramadan?
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and is considered a Holy month by Muslims across the globe. During this month, Muslims fast every day from dawn to sunset. Ramadan is supposed to be a time of spiritual discipline — reflecting on one’s relationship with God, extra prayer, increased charity and generosity, and intense study of the Quran, which we believe was revealed during this month.
This year, Ramadan begins on April 12 and lasts until May 12. We celebrate the end of Ramadan with the religious holiday Eid al-Fitr, which is one of our only two holidays in the year; think everyone coming together for big meals and exchanging gifts like for Christmas.
What exactly is fasting?
Fasting is one of the Five Pillars of Islam, which is a basic framework of the Muslim life. Fasting is fardh, or mandatory, for all adult Muslims except those who are elderly, ill, traveling, pregnant, breastfeeding, or on their period.
The daily fast involves giving up all food, drink (yes, even water), smoking, and having sexual relations from dawn to sunset. We usually wake up early for a pre-dawn meal called suhoor, and break our fast with dates, followed by a meal referred to as iftar. Basically, we just have an extra early breakfast, skip lunch and snacks, and have a big dinner. Don’t worry, you can still have your midnight ice cream runs.
Many Muslims eat iftar with extended family and even invite guests over. Many mosques host large iftars for the community, especially for the poor and needy. Nightly prayers called Taraweeh are also held in mosques after iftar, which can go on pretty late into the night. Unfortunately, taraweeh and community iftars didn’t take place last year due to the coronavirus pandemic, making Ramadan 2020 an adjustment for Muslims across the globe. With vaccines rolling out this year, some mosques will open up to limited people for socially distanced night prayers.
All you do is fast?
In this month, Muslims pray extra, read significantly more Quran and refrain from sinning. We try to curb negative emotions and bad habits like backbiting, fighting, lying, and insulting others, which may nullify the fast. These bad habits also include wasting time, such as binge watching Netflix (guilty as charged), and excessive internet browsing, when we can be putting that time to good use. Instead, it’s better to use that time for ibadah (acts of worshipping God), engaging in a productive hobby, work, and spending quality time with friends and family.
Why do you fast?
There’s a couple reasons we fast: to remind us of our human frailty and dependence on God for sustenance, to show us what it feels like to be hungry and thirsty so we feel compassion for the poor and needy, and to reduce the distractions in life so we can more clearly focus on your relationship with God.
We believe that during this month, the gates of Hell are closed with Satan chained up, meaning that all the sins we commit this month come from our subconscious, rather than whispers from the devil. This helps us assess what problems we have need to be worked on.
The idea is that if we give up our bad habits during this month, it is easier to continue this in our normal life after Ramadan ends. After all, it takes 21 days to break a habit, and Ramadan gives you 29.