Everything you need to know about Ramadan

Millions of people from the Islam religion will likely mark the start of Ramadan on Thursday. It's a month of intense prayer, dawn-to-dusk fasting, and nightly feasts. Hilal, the crescent, coincides with the astronomical new moon, which marks the beginning of the new month. Via this, Muslims can safely estimate the beginning of Ramadan – but geographical differences can change when it begins.

This year, the new moon will likely be on Friday, April the 24th – with many still under lockdown due to coronavirus.

Here are the most common questions Muslims get during Ramadan:

  • What are the rules of Ramadan?
  • Why do Muslims fast during Ramadan?
  • How do they fast?
  • Can Muslims be exempted from fasting?
  • When is the end of Ramadan?

What are the rules for Ramadan?

Here are the main rules for Ramadan:

When to eat? – Eating is prohibited from dusk to dawn. The time from dawn to dusk is when you're allowed to eat – preferably power foods to keep you going through the day.

Who should fast? – Every Muslim who is healthy is supposed to fast during Ramadan. Excepted are children, sick people, pregnant women, women during their menstrual cycle, and people traveling long distances. 

What breaks the fast? – There are a lot of things that break the fast such as injections, sex, eating, drinking, smoking, getting into a fight, cursing, and gossiping. The last three are also known, in many countries, not to break the fast but rather weakening it.

A Muslim cleric leads the afternoon prayers during the holy fasting month of Ramadan at a mosque in Mumbai, India, June 7, 2016. Danish Siddiqui , Reuters
A Muslim cleric leads the afternoon prayers during the holy fasting month of Ramadan at a mosque in Mumbai, India, June 7, 2016. Danish Siddiqui, Reuters

When does Ramadan end? – It depends on the sighting of the moon – when it completes a full circulation around the month. This year, it will end on the 23rd of May.

How many times do Muslims go to the mosque during Ramadan? – As much as they can. The minimum is 5 times a day – considering their 5 times of prayers. Usually, Muslims tend to spend more time at the mosque during Ramadan than any other month of the year.

Is it bad if I eat in front of someone who is fasting? – It's not illegal, but it frowns upon other people around – not the fasting Muslim. The majority of them will tell you that life should go on just like any other day and that they're not tempted to break their fast just because you're eating.

Why do Muslims fast during Ramadan?

Essentially, the fast is intended to bring the faithful closer to God. But it has something more beautiful to it too. It reminds them of the suffering of those less fortunate from them. During Ramadan, Muslims usually donate to charities more than the rest of the year.

Fasting is also an exercise in self-restraint. It's seen as a way of detoxifying – physically and spiritually – by kicking impulses like morning coffee, smoking, and midday snacking. 

Ramadan is also a time to detach from the worldly pleasures and purely focus on praying. Many Muslims tend to dress more conservatively during Ramadan and spend more time at the mosque than the rest of the year.

Fasting is considered one of the five pillars of Islam, along with the declaration of faith, daily prayer, charity, and performing the hajj pilgrimage in Mecca. 

Thousands of Turkish people break their fasting at the Blue Mosque square in Istanbul, during the first day of the holy month of Ramadan, on June 6, 2016. Ozan Kose, AFP
Thousands of Turkish people break their fasting at the Blue Mosque square in Istanbul, during the first day of the holy month of Ramadan, on June 6, 2016. Ozan Kose, AFP

How do Muslims fast?

Muslims, during Ramadan, abstain from eating and drinking from dusk to dawn – for the entire month of Ramadan. And just a drop of water or a puff of a cigarette is enough to invalidate the fast.

Muslim scholars say it's not enough just to avoid eating and drinking during the day. Spouses must also abstain from sexual intercourse during the day. People must also evade engaging any kind of road rage, cursing, fighting, and gossiping.

Also, Muslims are encouraged to observe the five daily prayers on time and use their downtime just before breaking their fast reciting the Quran – an intensify remembrance of God.

In order to prepare for the fast, Muslims usually eat a pre-dawn meal of power foods enough to get them through the day. This is commonly called “suhoor”. It's their only source of food and water until dawn.

Traditionally, Muslims break their fast exactly like Prophet Muhammed did approximately 1,400 years ago – with a sip of water and some dates at sunset. That first sip of water is, by far, the most appreciated moment of the day.

After sunset prayer, a large feast is shared with family and friends – this is called “iftar”. It's a social event as much as it's a gastronomical adventure. It differs from region to region. In the Arab world, juices from apricots are a staple at Ramadan iftars. In Turkey, yogurt-based drinks are more popular.

Indian Muslims gathered waiting for Iftar
Indian Muslims gathered waiting for Iftar

Can Muslims be exempted from fasting?


There are a lot of exceptions for people who are allowed not to fast:

  1. Children
  2. The elderly
  3. The sick
  4. Pregnant women
  5. Women who are menstruating
  6. People who are traveling

Many Muslims, especially those living in the United States and Europe, are accepting and welcoming of others who are not observing Ramadan. Of course, they're not expecting shorter hours – even if in the public sector across pretty much of the Arab world during Ramadan that's the case.

Be that as it may, non-Muslims or adult Muslims who eat in public during the day can be fined – or even jailed – in some Middle Eastern countries, such as the Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – which is home to large Western ex-pat populations in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

On the other hand, minority Chinese Uighur Muslims complain from heavy restrictions by the Communist Party. The restrictions they suffer are banning on fasting by party members, civil, teachers, and students. Children are also generally banned to attend the mosque, women are banned wearing veils, and you men growing bears.

When happens at the end of Ramadan?

The end of Ramadan is marked by intense worship as Muslims seek to have their prayer answered during “the Night of Destiny”.

It's on this night, which falls randomly during the last 10 days (no one knows the precise date), that Muslims believe that God sent the Angel Gabriel to the Prophet Muhammed. This resulted in revealing the first verses of the Quran.

Some devout Muslims go into reclusion those final days, spending the majority of their time in the mosque.

The end of Ramadan is celebrated by a three-day holiday called Eid al-Fits. Children usually receive new clothes, gifts, and cash.

Eid is celebrated by attending very early morning Eid prayers the day after Ramadan. And the families usually spend the day at parks and eating – now during the day too since Ramadan is over.

Muslims praying to to start Eidt - Birminghan, Alabama
Muslims praying to start Eid – Birmingham, Alabama

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