The Muslim holy month started recently and approximately over 1 billion Muslims will observe fast these days. There are many chances that you will encounter someone a friend, co-worker, shopkeeper or taxi/auto driver – who is celebrating Ramadan.
But what is Ramadan, exactly? And how can I make sure I don’t accidentally offend my Muslim friends and acquaintances during Ramadan? So let’s cover the most basic questions about Ramadan. 🙂
1) What is Ramadan?
Ramadan is the most sacred month of the year for Muslims — the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) reportedly said, “When the month of Ramadan starts, the gates of heaven are opened and the gates of Hell are closed and the devils are chained.” Muslims believe it was during this month that God revealed the first verses of the Quran, Islam’s sacred text, to Prophet Mohammed (PBUH), on a night known as “The Night of Power” (or Laylat al-Qadr in Arabic).
But if that makes it sound super serious and boring, it’s really not. It’s a time of celebration and joy, to be spent with loved ones. During Ramadan, Muslims observes a day-long fast and at the end of Ramadan, there is a big three-day celebration called Eid al-Fitr (Ramadan Eid), or “the Festival of the Breaking of the Fast.” It’s kind of like the Muslim version of Christmas, in the sense that it’s a religious holiday where everyone comes together for big meals with family and friends, exchanges presents, and generally, has a lovely time.
2) How does Ramadan Fasting work?
Fasting during Ramadan is one of the five pillars/duties of Islam, along with the testimony of faith, prayer, charitable giving, and making pilgrimage to Mecca. All Muslims are required to take part every year, though there are special dispensations for those who are ill, pregnant or nursing, menstruating, or traveling, and for young children and the elderly.
During Ramadan, Muslims wake up well before dawn to eat the first meal of the day, which has to last until sunset. This means eating lots of high-protein foods and drinking as much water as possible right up until dawn, after which you can’t eat or drink anything. At dawn, we perform the morning prayer. Since it’s usually still pretty early, many go back to sleep for a bit before waking up again to get ready for the day (I certainly do).
Muslims are not supposed to avoid work or school or any other normal duties during the day just because we are fasting. In many Muslim countries, however, businesses and schools may reduce their hours during the day or close entirely. For the most part, though, Muslims go about their daily business as we normally would, despite not being able to eat or drink anything the whole day.
When the evening call to prayer is finally made we break the day’s fast with a light meal — really more of a snack — called an iftar (literally “breakfast”), before performing the evening prayer.
3) Is there any special prayer during Ramadan?
During Ramadan, Muslims try to read Quran as much as possible along with five time’s compulsory prayer in a day. Muslims perform Tarawih prayer after night prayer which is generally reciting Quran.
4) What can I do to be respectful of my Muslim friends during Ramadan?
There are few things you can do — and not do — to make things a little easier for friends or colleagues who happen to be fasting for Ramadan. If you share an office with someone fasting, maybe eat your delicious, juicy cheeseburger in the office canteen rather than at your desk.
Try to remember not to offer them a bite or a sip of what you’re eating, because it’s sometimes hard for us to remember that we’re fasting and easy to absentmindedly accept and eat that which you just offered us. But if you do, it’s okay. We’re not going to get mad or be offended (unless you’re doing it on purpose, in which case, what is wrong with you?).
If you want to wish your Muslim friends or acquaintances a happy Ramadan, you’re welcome to just say, “Happy Ramadan!” or “Ramadan Kareem” (which means “have a generous Ramadan”) or “Ramadan Mubarak” (which means “have a blessed Ramadan”).
To make your Muslim friend comfortable accompany them during Iftar (Fast-breaking in the evening) 🙂
Ramadan is not only about fasting and praying, it’s about controlling our nerves and bad thoughts, doing charity and understanding pain of poor and hungry people.