9 questions on Ramadan you had been too embarrassed to ask

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Ramadan is the Muslim holy month, and many of the world’s estimated 1.9 billion Muslims will observe it in some type.

Which suggests there is a good likelihood you — or a good friend, a coworker, a neighbor, your kid’s trainer — will probably be celebrating, fasting, and doing all types of different actions which are distinctive to the holy month.

However what’s Ramadan, precisely? What’s the cope with fasting? And is there something particular it’s best to do or say if you’re round Muslim associates and acquaintances throughout Ramadan?

Don’t fear, we have you lined: Listed here are probably the most fundamental solutions to probably the most fundamental questions on Ramadan.

1) What’s Ramadan really about?

Ramadan is probably the most sacred month of the yr for Muslims — the Prophet Mohammed reportedly mentioned, “When the month of Ramadan begins, the gates of heaven are opened and the gates of hell are closed and the devils are chained.”

Muslims imagine it was throughout this month that God revealed the primary verses of the Quran, Islam’s sacred textual content, to Mohammed, on an evening generally known as “The Evening of Energy” (or Laylat al-Qadr in Arabic).

Throughout the complete month of Ramadan, Muslims quick daily from daybreak to sundown. It’s meant to be a time of non secular self-discipline — of deep contemplation of 1’s relationship with God, further prayer, elevated charity and generosity, and intense research of the Quran.

But when that makes it sound tremendous severe and boring, it is actually not. It is a time of celebration and pleasure, to be spent with family members. On the finish of Ramadan there’s an enormous three-day celebration referred to as Eid al-Fitr, or the Competition of the Breaking of the Quick.

It is form of just like the Muslim model of Christmas, within the sense that it is a spiritual vacation the place everybody comes collectively for giant meals with household and associates, exchanges presents, and customarily has a beautiful time.

2) How does fasting work?

Fasting throughout Ramadan is among the 5 pillars — or duties — of Islam, together with the testimony of religion, prayer, charitable giving, and making a pilgrimage to Mecca. All Muslims are required to participate yearly, although there are particular dispensations for many who are unwell, pregnant or nursing, menstruating, or touring, and for younger youngsters and the aged.

The follow of fasting serves a number of non secular and social functions: to remind you of your human frailty and your dependence on God for sustenance, to indicate you what it feels prefer to be hungry and thirsty so you’re feeling compassion for (and an obligation to assist) the poor and needy, and to cut back the distractions in life so you may extra clearly focus in your relationship with God.

Throughout Ramadan, Muslims abstain from consuming any meals, consuming any liquids, smoking cigarettes, and interesting in any sexual exercise, from daybreak to sundown. That features taking treatment (even in the event you swallow a tablet dry, with out consuming any water). Chewing gum can be prohibited (although I did not discover that one out till about midway by means of my first Ramadan after changing — oops).

Doing any of these issues “invalidates” your quick for the day, and also you simply begin over the following day. To make up for days you did not quick, you may both quick later within the yr (both abruptly or a day right here and there) or present a meal to a needy particular person for every day you missed.

Muslims are additionally presupposed to attempt to curb unfavourable ideas and feelings like jealousy and anger, and even lesser issues like swearing, complaining, and gossiping, through the month. Some folks may additionally select to surrender or restrict actions like listening to music and watching tv, typically in favor of listening to recitations of the Quran.

3) What’s a typical day like throughout Ramadan?

Throughout Ramadan, Muslims get up properly earlier than daybreak to eat the primary meal of the day, which has to final till sundown. This implies consuming numerous high-protein meals and consuming as a lot water as doable proper up till daybreak, after which you’ll’t eat or drink something.

At daybreak, we carry out the morning prayer. Because it’s normally nonetheless fairly early, many return to sleep for a bit earlier than waking up once more to prepare for the day (I definitely do).

Muslims should not presupposed to keep away from work or faculty or some other regular duties through the day simply because we’re fasting. In lots of Muslim nations, nevertheless, companies and faculties might cut back their hours through the day or shut completely. For probably the most half, although, Muslims go about their each day enterprise as we usually would, regardless of not with the ability to eat or drink something the entire day.

When the night name to prayer is lastly made (or when the alarm in your cellphone’s Muslim prayer app goes off), we break the day’s quick with a lightweight meal — actually extra of a snack — referred to as an iftar (actually “breakfast”), earlier than performing the night prayer. Many individuals additionally go to the mosque for the night prayer, adopted by a particular prayer that’s solely recited throughout Ramadan.

A Muslim household gathers on the desk for the iftar meal after sundown throughout Ramadan on Could 13, 2020, in Rotterdam, Netherlands.
Robin Utrecht/SOPA Pictures/LightRocket through Getty Pictures

Palestinians collect alongside the shore of Gaza Metropolis to share the iftar meal throughout Ramadan on Could 13, 2020.
Mahmud Hams/AFP through Getty Pictures

That is normally adopted by a bigger meal a bit later within the night, which is commonly shared with household and associates in each other’s houses all through the month. Then it is off to mattress for just a few hours of sleep earlier than it is time to get up and begin over again.

(Be aware: There are good causes for less than having a small snack to interrupt your quick earlier than performing the night prayer after which consuming a much bigger meal later. Muslim prayers contain a whole lot of motion — bending over, prostrating on the bottom, standing up, and many others. Doing all that bodily exercise on a full abdomen after not having eaten for 15 hours is a recipe for catastrophe. Simply belief me on this one.)

Regardless of the hardship of fasting for an entire month, most Muslims (myself included) really look ahead to Ramadan and are a bit unhappy when it’s over. There’s simply one thing actually particular about understanding that tens of hundreds of thousands of your fellow Muslims all over the world are experiencing the identical starvation pangs, dry mouth, and dizzy spells that you’re, and that we’re all in it collectively.

4) So do you drop some weight throughout Ramadan?

A few of you could be pondering, “Wow, that appears like a good way to drop some weight! I will strive it!” However actually, Ramadan is definitely infamous for sometimes inflicting weight acquire. That is as a result of consuming giant meals tremendous early within the morning and late at night time with a protracted interval of low exercise bordering on lethargy in between can wreak havoc in your metabolism.

One meta-analysis of scientific research on the consequences of Ramadan fasting on physique weight discovered that “[w]eight adjustments throughout Ramadan had been comparatively small and largely reversed after Ramadan, progressively returning to pre-Ramadan standing. Ramadan offers a chance to drop some weight, however structured and constant way of life modifications are crucial to realize lasting weight reduction.” [Italics mine.]

So identical to with some other excessive food plan plan, you could lose just a few kilos, however until you really make “structured and constant way of life modifications,” you are in all probability not going to see main, lasting outcomes.

5) Why do the dates of Ramadan change yearly?

For spiritual issues, Muslims comply with a lunar calendar — that’s, one primarily based on the phases of the moon — whose 12 months add as much as roughly 354 days. That is 11 days shorter than the three hundred and sixty five days of the usual Gregorian calendar. Due to this fact, the Islamic lunar calendar strikes backward roughly 11 days every year in relation to the common Gregorian calendar.

In order that implies that the primary day of the month of Ramadan, which is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, strikes backward by about 11 days every year.

This has a big impression on how folks expertise Ramadan from yr to yr. When Ramadan falls within the winter, it is a lot simpler to quick: the times are shorter, which suggests you do not have to quick as lengthy, and it is colder out, so not with the ability to drink water all day is not as huge of a deal since you’re not sweating as a lot.

Conversely, when Ramadan falls in the summertime, fasting will be brutal. In lots of Muslim nations within the Center East and Africa, summer season temperatures can attain ranges normally reserved for the deepest bowels of hell.

And in some Northern European nations comparable to Iceland, Norway, and Sweden (the place, sure, there are Muslims), fasting can final a median of 20 hours or extra in the summertime. (And in just a few locations above the Arctic Circle, the solar by no means really units in the summertime. In these instances, Muslim spiritual authorities have decreed that Muslims can both quick together with the closest Muslim nation or quick together with Mecca, Saudi Arabia.)

6) Okay, however why is there all the time confusion yearly about precisely what day Ramadan begins on?

There is a motive “Ramadan begin date” is among the most-searched phrases each single yr. That is as a result of Muslims all over the world have no idea when precisely Ramadan is definitely supposed to start out. In case you Google it, you may see there’s a bit disclaimer below Google’s reply that claims “Dates might differ”:

screenshot of Google search results for Ramadan dates 2023

That additionally has to do with the moon — in addition to disagreements about science, historical past, and custom, plus a little bit of geopolitical rivalry.

The start of every new month within the Islamic calendar begins on the brand new moon. Which suggests the month of Ramadan begins on the brand new moon. Easy sufficient, proper?

Incorrect.

If it has been some time since your highschool astronomy class, here is a reminder of what the phases of the moon appear like:

The phases of the moon.
Getty Pictures/iStockphoto

Again in Mohammed’s day, in sixth-century Arabia, astronomical calculations weren’t as exact as they’re in the present day, so folks glided by what they may see with the bare eye.

Because the new moon is not really tremendous seen within the night time sky (as you may see above), Muslims historically waited to start out fasting till the small sliver of crescent moon turned seen. There’s even a saying attributed to the Prophet Mohammed about ready to start out the quick till you see the crescent. (Some folks assume for this reason the star and crescent is the image of Islam, however the crescent was used as an emblem lengthy earlier than Islam.)

This technique was a bit messy, although, since issues like clouds or simply the problem of recognizing the moon in some places typically led to totally different teams beginning their quick on separate days, even throughout the similar nation. Every group, village, and even mosque throughout the village may ship its personal man out to search for the crescent, with rival teams arguing over whether or not the opposite man actually noticed it.

Right now, nevertheless, we’ve got exact scientific calculations that inform us precisely when the brand new moon begins, and we needn’t wait till somebody spots a tiny crescent within the sky. (The truth is, in accordance with the Oxford Dictionary of Islam, “The necessity to decide the exact look of the hilal [crescent moon] was one of many inducements for Muslim students to review astronomy.”)

So, drawback solved! Besides that some Muslim students imagine we must always nonetheless wait till the slight crescent moon is seen within the night time sky as a result of that is what Mohammed mentioned to do and that is the way in which we have all the time finished it.

Others argue that Islam has a robust custom of motive, information, and science, and that if Mohammed had been round in the present day, he’d select the extra exact scientific calculations over sending the man on the mosque with one of the best eyesight exterior to squint on the night time sky.

To make issues much more enjoyable, some argue that the entire world ought to simply comply with the official moon-sighting decrees of Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam and the placement of its holiest websites.

However not everybody thinks that is such a swell concept — particularly rival nations like Pakistan and Iran, which balk on the concept of treating Saudi Arabia as the final word authority on something having to do with Islam.

All which means every year, Muslims all over the world get to expertise the pleasant lunacy of “moon-sighting combating.” It is such a well-known characteristic of Ramadan that there are memes about it:

7) Are there variations between how Sunni Muslims and Shia Muslims observe Ramadan?

For probably the most half, no. Each Sunni and Shia Muslims quick throughout Ramadan. However there are some minor variations — as an example, Sunnis break their each day quick at sundown, when the solar is now not seen on the horizon (however there’s nonetheless mild within the sky), whereas Shia wait till the redness of the setting solar has utterly vanished and the sky is completely darkish.

Shia additionally have fun an extra vacation throughout the month of Ramadan that Sunnis don’t. For 3 days — the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty first days of Ramadan — Shia commemorate the martyrdom of Ali ibn Abi Talib, the cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet Mohammed who was each the revered fourth caliph of Sunni Islam and the primary “respectable” imam (chief) of Shia Islam.

Ali was assassinated within the fierce civil wars that erupted following the dying of Mohammed over who ought to lead the Muslim group in his stead. On the nineteenth day of the month of Ramadan, whereas Ali was worshipping at a mosque in Kufa, Iraq, an murderer from a bunch of rebels who opposed his management fatally struck him with a poisoned sword. Ali died two days later.

Ali is a vastly essential determine in Shia Islam. His tomb in close by Najaf, Iraq, is the third-holiest web site in Shia Islam, and hundreds of thousands of Shia make a pilgrimage there yearly. Though Sunnis revere Ali as one of many 4 “rightly guided” caliphs who dominated after Mohammed’s dying, they don’t commemorate his dying or make a pilgrimage to his tomb.

The tomb of Imam Ali in Najaf, Iraq.
Getty Pictures/iStockphoto

8) What can I do to be respectful of my Muslim associates throughout Ramadan?

In some Muslim nations, it’s a crime to eat and drink in public through the day within the month of Ramadan, even in the event you’re not Muslim.

After all, this isn’t the case in the US, the place we take pleasure in freedom of (and freedom from) faith. And most American Muslims, myself included, do not count on the non-Muslims round us to seriously change their conduct to accommodate our spiritual quick throughout Ramadan.

I’ve had associates and coworkers who’ve chosen to quick together with me out of solidarity (or simply as a result of it appears “enjoyable”), and that was candy of them, however it’s not one thing I ever count on folks to do. (Plus, they normally final about three days earlier than they resolve solidarity is overrated and being thirsty for 15 hours is just not remotely “enjoyable.”)

All that mentioned, there are issues you are able to do, and never do, to make issues a bit simpler for associates or colleagues who occur to be fasting for Ramadan. In case you share an workplace with somebody fasting, possibly eat your scrumptious, juicy cheeseburger within the workplace break room fairly than at your desk, the place your poor, struggling Muslim coworkers must scent it and salivate (in the event that they even have sufficient moisture left of their our bodies to salivate at that time).

Attempt to keep in mind to not supply them a chunk or a sip of what you are consuming, as a result of it is generally arduous for us to keep in mind that we’re fasting and simple to absentmindedly settle for and eat that Lay’s potato chip you simply provided us. However in the event you do, it is okay. We’re not going to get mad or be offended (until you are doing it on objective, through which case, what’s fallacious with you?).

In case you’re having a cocktail party and also you need to invite your Muslim associates, attempt to schedule it after sundown to allow them to eat. Muslims do not drink alcohol or eat pork, however we normally do not thoughts being round it. (Opposite to common perception, we’re not frightened of or allergic to pork; we simply do not eat it. It is not like we’re vampires and pork is garlic.) However do tell us if there’s alcohol or pork in one thing so we do not unintentionally devour it.

If you wish to want your Muslim associates or acquaintances a contented Ramadan or blissful Eid al-Fitr, you are welcome to only say, “Glad Ramadan!” or “Glad Eid!” That is not offensive or something. However if you wish to present them you made an effort to study extra about their faith, the usual greetings are “Ramadan/Eid kareem” (which suggests “have a beneficiant Ramadan/Eid”) or “Ramadan/Eid mubarak” (which suggests “have a blessed Ramadan/Eid”).

Even one thing so simple as studying a type of expressions and saying it with a smile to your Muslim associates will go a good distance towards making them really feel comfy and welcome.

9) So in the event you’re not presupposed to get indignant or complain or gossip throughout Ramadan, how come terror assaults by teams like ISIS and al-Qaeda generally spike throughout Ramadan?

As a result of terrorists are assholes.

Replace, March 22, 2023: This story was initially printed in 2017 and has been up to date with new dates, and to take away outdated references.

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