June 16, 2016

Ramadhan: What Does It Actually Involve?

Sameea Jonnud, Aldershot, UK

The phrase “Ramadhan Mubarak” and good wishes for a blessed Ramadhan are quite commonplace now and heard from Muslims and non-Muslims. Gone are the days when those in the West may not have realised that Ramadhan was taking place and these days politicians, sports teams and celebrities will all send messages of support to their Muslim friends. However despite the knowledge of Ramadhan and fasting there still exist misconceptions and many people may wonder what it is and just what is actually involved

In the Holy Qur’an it is written:

“O ye who believe! fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may become righteous.”
Chapter 2, verse 184

Thus Muslims fast because it has been commanded by God as a means of self-purification. Fasting also gives a sense, for a short time, of what it must be like for those underprivileged people who don’t have enough food. On breaking the fast Muslims should eat in moderation; Ramadhan should not be a series of daily feasts which would somewhat defeat the purpose. Incidentally in recent years the health benefits of a fasting diet have been widely discussed and the 5:2 diet, with two days of fasting a week has been widely promoted. This follows the practice of the Holy Prophet of Islam (peace be on him) who often used to fast on Mondays and Thursdays when it was not Ramadhan.

Fasting is not particularly an Islamic injunction as all the major religions have or have had aspects of fasting involved, for example Lent. For a Muslim fasting means abstaining from all food and drink from dawn – about one and a half hours before sunrise – until sunset.

The word Ramadhan refers to the ninth month of the Muslim lunar calendar and this is also the month in which the revelation of the Holy Qur’an began making it an even more special month for Muslims. The lunar month begins at the sighting of the new moon which may be easy in places with clear skies but not so easy here in the UK. Some may wait and attempt to actually catch sight of the moon and some coordinate their Ramadhan with other countries, for example Saudi Arabia which is home to Mecca. The method, used by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, is to use data provided by a national Observatory who calculate when the earliest sighting of the moon is possible with the naked eye.

As the lunar calendar is shorter than the Gregorian one, every year Ramadhan takes place about eleven days earlier than the previous one. This means that over a number of years Ramadhan is experienced in all times of the year, during winter as well as summer; currently in the UK we are experiencing fasting at the height of summer and each fast lasts for around 18 plus hours.

While fasting is obligatory for Muslims there are exceptions, as the Holy Qur’an states:

“… whosoever of you is present at home in this month, let him fast therein. But whoso is sick or is on a journey, shall fast the same number of other days. Allah desires to give you facility and He desires not hardship for you…”
Chapter 2, verse 186

So those that are ill or on a journey and menstruating, pregnant or breastfeeding women are not required to fast and instead may make up their missed fasts afterwards when they are able to. A special monetary contribution, called “Fidya” is made by those unable to fast which is the equivalent of feeding a person two meals a day for the duration of Ramadhan.

There are often cases of children as young as primary age fasting, even during summer fasts and non-Muslims have commented on the fact. However fasting is obligatory for healthy adults so children should not fast because it can interfere with their health. During winter fasts a healthy child may try out a fast to give them a taste of how it feels as long as they do not suffer in any way.

Children and those adults not fasting are able to fully participate in Ramadhan in other ways. They can pray and recite the Holy Qur’an more than they usually would and read the traditions of the Holy Prophet of Islam (peace be on him). Waking up for voluntary prayer in the night, eating with those who are keeping a fast and breaking the fast with them gives the feeling of being part of Ramadhan. Increasing charitable contributions and helping those in need is also a way of participating as one way to please God is to serve humanity.

Ultimately the month of Ramadhan brings one closer to God and serves to renew the faith of Muslims who can resolve to change some aspect of themselves for the better and continue that change after Ramadhan ends. That is why Muslims wish each other “Ramadhan Mubarak” – a happy, blessed Ramadhan.

Ramadhan: What Does It Actually Involve?