During Ramadan we come across many opportunities to explain what Ramadan is to our neighbors, friends, bosses, co-workers, and anyone who we interact with in our daily lives.

These opportunities usually arise in gatherings or during meal times. People who have never heard of Ramadan can learn a lot simply by asking questions and they are usually fascinated by the facts they hear about Ramadan and fasting. Most of all they are amazed to learn how we restrain ourselves from the necessity of life: water.

The conversation usually goes like this:

Why don’t you join us and have some food ?

No, thank you. I’m fasting. I can’t eat or drink anything.

You can’t even drink water?

Yes, when I’m fasting I can’t even drink water. Islamic fasting is unique because fasting in Islam entails abstaining “completely” from food, drink and marital relations from dawn till sunset each day during the month of Ramadan which lasts 29 or 30 days. After sunset, all of these restrictions are lifted till the next day’s fast.

That sounds really hard. How do you do it?

Fasting can be difficult, but when one understands the religious benefits, fasting can be a time of spiritual connection and growth and can be quite enjoyable as the whole community partakes in this holy event together.

Do you always fast during this month?

Since Muslims use the lunar calendar for their religious observances, the time of fasting changes every year.

A new month in the lunar calendar is determined by the appearance of a new crescent moon. The lunar month is generally 1 or 2 days shorter than a typical month in the Gregorian calendar because the sighting of the new crescent occurs every 29 or 30 days. Similarly, a lunar year is about 10 or 11 days shorter than a typical Gregorian year. As a result, dates of events in the Islamic lunar year move forward about 10 or 11 days every year. For example, in 2022 Ramadan began on April 2nd, but this year it is expected to begin on March 22.

Do your kids fast as well?

Yes they do. Even though children are not obligated to fast until they have reached puberty, I encourage my childrens’ participation during Ramadan to cultivate their spiritual growth as a Muslim from an early age. There is no better time to practice fasting than with all the other Muslims in our community. Knowing that they are still too young to fast the whole day, I encourage them to practice fasting in a way that is appropriate for their age.

Does everyone have to fast?

Fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam. Therefore, every physically and mentally healthy adult Muslim has to fast during the month of Ramadan. The general rule is that if fasting is going to harm one’s health, then that person does not have to fast. Instead, they need to pay fidya (the amount equivalent to feeding one person). Also, Muslims who are traveling do not have to fast because this would be excessively difficult for the traveler. Lastly, women do not fast during their menstrual cycles.

Is it healthy to fast for such long hours?

Yes, there are many health benefits to fasting such as improved blood sugar control, heart health, brain function, and cancer prevention. But more importantly there also spiritual benefits which include, but are not limited to:

  • Helping one get closer to Allah (s.w.t.) and gain His approval.
  • Provides a time to “purify” one’s body and soul by developing a greater sense of humility, spirituality and community. A greater sense of generosity and forgiveness is also characteristic of this time.
  • Helping one empathize with those who are less fortunate and underprivileged since Muslims feel a greater appreciation for what they have as a result of feeling hunger and thirst throughout the day.
  • Allowing one to build a sense of self-control and willpower which can be beneficial throughout life in dealing with temptations and peer pressure. Through fasting, Muslims learn to control their natural urges such as hunger and thirst, and thus are able to better resist temptations for things which are not necessary, such as drugs or other unhealthy or harmful substances and behaviors.
  • Helping one develop taqwa (being conscious of God). Muslims want to become closer to God through fasting and also through extra acts of prayer and charity which are encouraged in Ramadan. The main purpose of fasting is described in the Quran as “..that you will perhaps guard yourselves (against evil).” Surah al-Baqara (2:183)

What’s the importance of Ramadan?

Ramadan may be known as the fasting month of the Islamic calendar during which Muslims don’t eat or drink, but there is much more to it than just fasting.

Muslims pay more attention to supererogatory prayers and participate in Taraweeh prayers with the congregation, recite the Qur’an and participate in Muqabala (a comparative recitation of the Qur’an believed to have been performed by Angel Gabriel and Prophet Muhammad), and also spend their time alone in mosques for I’tikaf (a period of retreat). In addition to these, they avoid sins and stay away from worldly pleasures. All these are given greater importance in the month of Ramadan because the first revelation was sent down to our Prophet by Allah in this month.

Based on the teachings of the Qur’an and Sunnah, Muslims understand that the wisdom of fasting is to learn patience, engage in worship by increasing prayers, reciting the Qur’an or spending time in solitude at the mosque, avoid sin and remind oneself of the people less fortunate in the world. Also, serving iftar meals to break fast is dearly appreciated by Allah and earns a person tremendous rewards.

What happens after Ramadan is over?

After the whole month of fasting, we celebrate a very festive and joyous holiday called “Eid al-Fitr”, the “Festival of Breaking the Fast” for three days. We don’t send our kids to school on those days. On the first day of the Eid, all Muslims attend special congregational prayers in the early morning wearing their finest clothes. After the completion of prayers and a special sermon, we rise to greet and hug one another, saying “Eid Mubarak,” which means “Blessed Eid.”

On the second and third days of Eid, we visit each other’s homes and exchange gifts. Children are often rewarded with gifts, money, and sweets. Our homes are decorated with lights and “Eid Mubarak” banners and many communities will sponsor an Eid festival or fair on the weekend.

I certainly learned a lot from our conversations today. Thank you for answering my questions and have a great Ramadan.

You are welcome. I am glad to be able to answer your questions. Thank you and see you next time.

Filiz Arslan

March 2023