The Holy Month of Ramadan is one of the most important occasions in the Islamic world. It’s a time when Muslims fast from dawn to dusk, remember their Creator, and spend time with friends and family. As the blessed month approaches, here are some facts to help you demystify the occasion:
How do Muslims fast during Ramadan and for how long?
Muslims fast from dawn to dusk. The fast starts as soon as the sun is visible over the horizon, and ends when it sinks below the horizon. These days, the start and end of the fast is announced by other means – such as cannon shot – in Muslim countries.
Are Muslims allowed to eat anything during the day?
Unlike fasting in some other religions, the Muslim dawn to dusk fast is a complete one. No food is allowed, and neither is water. It’s a test of spirit, and is designed to grow compassion towards the needy – by helping people experience what it’s like to go hungry.
Fasting is obligatory for any Muslim of sound mind and body who has reached the age of adolescence. But Islam does allow for exceptions to the fast: for the unwell, pregnant women and travellers.
How long does Ramadan last?
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, and fluctuates slightly from the solar Gregorian calendar. But there isn’t too much of a difference; Ramadan usually lasts for 30 days.
What’s more interesting is the length of each individual fast – which runs from sunrise to sunset. Naturally, the length of the day varies in different parts of the world depending on latitude. Most Muslims would fast between 11 to 16 hours on average. Further North, however, the period between dawn and sunset may exceed 22 hours in the summers, with the sun disappearing for days during the winter. In such extreme conditions, it is suggested that Muslims take guidance from nearby countries where night and day is distinguishable.
The Council of Senior Scholars in Saudi Arabia has decided that Muslims “in a land in which the sun does not set during the summer and does not rise during the winter” should set their fasting times based on “the dawn and sunset each day in the closest country in which night can be distinguished from day.”1
What else does Ramadan involve?
Above everything, Ramadan is a time for reflection, spirituality and closeness to God and His Creation. Muslims tend to spend more time with friends and family, and in devotion.
Ramadan and the fasting it entails is less about the physical act of giving up food and drink. It’s more an exercise in patience, introspection and kindness. Muslims aren’t just expected to fast. They’re also expected to be kind, forgiving, and charitable – particularly during the month.
How can I join in the spirit of Ramadan?
Even if you aren’t a Muslim and aren’t obligated to fast, it’s very easy to join in the spirit of the Holy Month. Out of respect, don’t eat, drink or smoke in public in front of your friends who are fasting. And join your friends and colleagues for iftar – the sunset meal that concludes a day of fasting. Greet your Muslim friends with “Ramadan Kareem”, and keep an ear to the ground for community talks and lectures explaining the significance of the month.
Ramadan Kareem, everyone!