What Is Ramadan?
Ramadan is a very special time for Muslims across the world. It’s an annual opportunity for us to continuously improve ourselves as people.
A big part of it is fasting during daylight hours. No food or water right from the beginning of dawn, until sunset (today it is 2:51am until 9:16pm). If you think that’s bad – in Reykjavik, they are fasting from 2am until around 11:40pm! Of course, some people are exempt from it, such as, the elderly, the sick, young kids and pregnant women.
However, there are other aspects of Ramadan that are just as important as the fasting:
- Being grateful – Fasting can be tough for a lot of us, especially with the long summer days. However, this acts as a reminder for me that there are lots of people in the world who are forced to go hungry all year round due to their poverty. Fasting shows us a small example of how it might feel to be so poor that you can’t afford any food. It helps us increase our patience, tolerance and focus on what is important in life. So many people do not have the choice of whether to fast or not, simply because they don’t have the money or the means to feed themselves or their kids. This helps us to practice gratitude on a daily basis. Being grateful for what I’ve got. The fact that we can go home to our families, and break our fasts with plenty of nice food, clean tap water, electricity and a roof over our heads is a gentle reminder that I need to continue to do more of my next point…
- Charity – This is one of the 5 pillars of Islam (as is fasting), so it is equally as important as the fasting. Charity is encouraged even more throughout this month because we’re able to feel the hunger that others feel. According to the Charity Commission, British Muslims donated more than £100 million to charity during Ramadan in 2016! The acts of charity and kindness can range from giving your friends or neighbours some food for Iftar (breaking fast), all the way to paying towards a water pump or a school to be built in a needy country. Being good to others and doing a good deed for the day can go a long way.
- Renewing spiritual values – Ramadan is a time for Muslims to strengthen their values. This could be done through getting closer to the religion, learning more about the meanings behind it and performing extra prayers. There are additional evening prayers to be done through this month, so that will explain the gathering of nocturnal people outside the local mosque at midnight!
- Unity – A core aspect of Islam is the unity of people, not just Muslims. Unity through family, friends, the local community, a nation and a human race. Ramadan is a time when nearly 2 billion people across the world are united in their fasting. The majority are fasting at the same time for the same month – everyone that’s partaking is going through the same experience, together. Family and friends will often get together for Iftar, usually with eyes bigger than their stomachs! As well as strengthening our individual values, it’s a opportune time to strengthen our relationships with those around us. Our manners and relationships carry so much significance that, if you purposefully swear, have a fight or an argument, then your fast is invalidated. It tests your patience, especially when you’re hangry!
When is it?
The timing of Ramadan gradually changes every year. It is based on the Lunar cycle, and follows the Moon’s phases. Ramadan lasts for either 29 or 30 days because the Lunar cycle lasts for 29.53 days. This means that the start and end of Ramadan is based on the sighting of a new Moon, to signify a new month in the Islamic year. Ramadan moves approximately 11 days earlier each year. Currently, in the Northern Hemisphere, we are fasting through the Summer season and it will take a few more years before Ramadan will return to the Winter season (I can’t wait!). Back when I was fasting in my younger days, it was just like having a late lunch!
Ramadan in practice
Waking up or staying awake for an early morning meal (before 3am) may seem daunting, but it’s important to get some nutritious fuel inside you for the day ahead. This meal is called Suhoor or Sehri and is the pre-dawn meal before the fast starts. Overnight oats are perfect for me to eat – carbohydrates for slow release energy! It’s also worth getting some protein in to keep you feeling full for longer and plenty of water for hydration through the day.
Throughout the day it’s strange how some people just don’t feel the hunger or thirst. It’s usually the energy levels that people have to manage. The lack of sleep and food means that our energy stores are lower than usual, therefore we need to cut ourselves some slack if we find we can’t concentrate for as long as usual. Regular breaks from your desk, plenty of fresh air and sunlight all help with maintaining our focus at work. It’s also worth talking about the fasting to colleagues, so they can understand why I sometimes stare at them blankly when they ask me a question – I’m not sleeping with my eyes open, honest!
The meal for the breaking of the fast is called Iftar. This is when you think you could eat a horse, but you can only manage water and fruit! The stomach seems to shrink during the month which means you can’t eat your normal portion sizes after sunset. It has been proven that fasting can actually be good for you. It helps to flush out the toxins of day-to-day consumption and almost resets your body. Some of the fasting-based diets have been created based on this principle. For Iftar, a light meal with a mixture of nutritional elements will help to replenish energy stores that were spent through the day. For many of us, it’s tradition to do the opposite of this and have plenty of fried foods (samosas etc.) to share round the table! All in moderation, of course.
Eid al-Fitr is the post-Ramadan celebration! It’s celebrated on the day after Ramadan ends, and the festivities can last up to a few days afterwards. You can imagine the kind of feasting that takes place! Lots of family, friends, presents and food fills up the day. It’s a day to not only celebrate the end of Ramadan, but also acts as a reward for everyone for taking part in the fasting – it’s tradition to exchange gifts over a big lunch on the day of Eid.
These are just a few of the key motivations for me through Ramadan, and what it means to take part. I hope it gives you an insight into the purpose of the month for many Muslims, and who knows, maybe next year you’ll fancy joining your colleagues and try fasting for 1 day!
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