Ramadan, a blessed month for the Muslim community spent praying, fasting and remembering Allah is around the corner.
Here’s a fun fact, Muslims living in Western countries often get asked several questions by their non-Muslim friends and colleagues. What is Ramadan and how is it celebrated? Why do Muslims fast? When does it take place?
While the questions may have no end, let’s answer some of the most frequently asked questions about Ramadan - a month of great significance to practising Muslims including converts and reverts. Here, we will be answering 10 questions about Ramadan:
- What is Ramadan?
- When is Ramadan observed?
- Why do Muslims observe Ramadan?
- Is everyone expected to fast?
- Why do Muslims fast during Ramadan?
- What happens during Ramadan?
- How can I share Ramadan with my community, even if they’re not Muslim?
- What is an Iftar Party?
- What happens at the end of Ramadan?
- What are some gifts I can give people I care about to celebrate Eid?
1. What is Ramadan?
Ramadan is a month in the Islamic calendar also known as Hijri Calendar. It involves fasting from pre-dawn till sunset, praying, reading the Quran also known as Al Quran and abstaining from all things that are considered to be impure for the mind and the body — including food, drink and impure thoughts — between sunrise and sunset.
If someone you know is observing Ramadan, you can say, Ramadan Kareem, (Have a generous Ramadan) or, Ramadan Mubarak (which can translate as Happy Ramadan) to show your support.
2. When is Ramadan observed?
The Islamic calendar is based around the lunar cycle and is around ten or 11 days shorter each year.
Ramadan is observed during the 9th month of the lunar calendar, and the exact dates of Ramadan change by the same number of days every year.
This year, Ramadan is expected to begin on Sunday, March 10th, 2024. The exact date, however, will depend on the first sighting of the new moon.
A timetable for Ramadan events in the UK can be found on the Islamic Relief website.
3. Why do Muslims observe Ramadan?
In short, Ramadan is one of the holiest months of the year for Muslims. During the month Muslims are expected to fast (one of the 5 pillars of Islam) and give alms (another pillar of Islam). It marks the revelation of a section of the Holy Qur’an - the Holy Book in Islam revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) over 23 years.
4. Why do Muslims fast during Ramadan?
Fasting — or Sawm — is one of the Five Pillars of Islam.
It is considered to be one of the highest forms of Islamic worship because abstaining from earthly pleasures and curbing evil intentions and desires is regarded as an act of obedience and submission to God [30 Days of Prayer]. It’s also a way to make amends for sins, and mistakes.
To accommodate fasting Muslims, many offices and schools in Muslim-majority countries close early. Unsurprisingly, 30 days of fasting is pretty tough. During Ramadan, Muslims must make physical and emotional allowances as the days start early. While fasting is a large part of observing Ramadan, Ramadan isn’t only about fasting. So, let’s find out even more.
5. Is everyone expected to fast?
While fasting is a priority, and something that Muslims take seriously, not everyone is able, or expected to fast. Those who are exempt include:
- Elderly people
- Anyone who is ill
- Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding
- People with diabetes or any prolonged illness
- Anyone who is travelling
6. What happens during Ramadan?
Typically, the first meal (called Suhur or Suhoor) is eaten at around 4:30 am, right before the Fajr prayer and fasting begins when the sun rises. This is also when the first prayer of the day, Fajr, is offered.
The second and third prayers are offered by Muslims during early and late afternoon, respectively while fasting.
According to 30 Days of Prayer, when a fasting Muslim feels hunger it’s an opportunity to remember the reasons for their fasting. Fasting is a way for Muslims to understand the plight of the lesser privileged by experiencing hunger first-hand.
This is the reason why Ramadan is also a time when helping others and giving out charity in the name of Allah is encouraged, both financially and emotionally. Ramadan is often known as the month of charity and generosity and many believe that a reward earned during this month is worth 70 times more than a reward at any other time.
Muslims break their fast at sunset after hearing the Maghrib Prayer, often with dates and water as recommended by The Prophet Muhammed (PBUH). Breaking the fast is a communal affair and it is known as an Iftar or an Iftar party.
Next, the fourth daily prayer, Maghrib, is offered, and then dinner is enjoyed.
After dinner, Muslims traditionally go to the mosque, to offer the final prayer of the day: Isha. The day ends with a special voluntary prayer called the Taraweeh, which is offered by the congregation who recite the Qur’an.
These rituals happen every day for 30 days.
7. How can I share the spirit of Ramadan with my community, even if they’re not Muslim?
The Muslim Council of Britain has some brilliant ideas of how you can share the spirit of Ramadan with your local community, especially if many of them are non-Muslim.
Some suggestions include:
- Put a Ramadan banner on your front door to let your neighbours know that you’re observing Ramadan and invite them to experience Iftar with you.
- During Ramadan, offer to help your neighbours with any shopping or other errands.
- Contact your local newspaper or news website and ask them to publish information about Ramadan to raise awareness in the community.
- Encourage your children to chat with their friends about what Ramadan is.
- Take the initiative to talk about what Ramadan means to you with colleagues or classmates, even if you’re working or studying from home.
8. What is an Iftar Party?
An Iftar party is a special event held during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. It is a gathering of Muslims who have been fasting from pre-dawn until sunset, and it takes place after the sunset prayer.
The Iftar meal is a time for Muslims to break their fast together, and it is traditionally done with dates and water or milk along with other local delicacies.
After a few hours of Iftar, dinner is served which typically consists of a variety of dishes that vary based on culture and tradition. The food served is often rich and delicious, and it is a time for family and friends to come together and enjoy a meal in celebration of the blessings of Ramadan.
Iftar parties are a way for the community to come together and share in the spirit of Ramadan, and they often involve prayer and conversation.
9. What happens at the end of Ramadan?
During the final ten days of Ramadan, Muslims celebrate the Laylat Al Qadr, which is the holiest night of the year. It commemorates the night that the Quran was first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad.
At the end of the month, two things happen.
Firstly, Zakat donations are made. Zakat is one of the five pillars of Islam and is a form of obligatory charity. The word Zakat means to cleanse, and by paying for it, Muslims believe they are purified, and that the remainder of their wealth is blessed. [Islamic Relief]
Secondly, Eid Ul-Fitr — a time of feasting and celebration in which gifts are exchanged — is celebrated. On Eid-Ul-Fitr, the greeting changes from Ramadan Mubarak to Eid Mubarak.
10. What are some gifts I can give to celebrate Eid ul-Fitr?
We know how hard it can be during celebrations and festivals to be away from home, friends and loved ones. If you are unable to visit your near and dear ones this year, here are some ideas for how you can show your love and appreciation for them while you’re not together:
- Send them a luxury Halal hamper
- Buy a bespoke Eid present from Noorah’s Gifts
- Treat them to a piece of beautiful personalised Arabic jewellery from Rehmania
- Or, you can always send money if you’re not sure what to buy. It's a great option as it lets them buy themselves something they want.
Ramadan is an important time for Muslim families and communities around the world. The holy month includes fasting, prayer and acts of charity that help Muslims connect with Allah.
You might not be able to travel to see your family abroad this year, however, with Small World, you can still send them your prayers and presents without hesitation.