Like the vast majority of Muslims out here in the UK or dare I say ‘Western world’, I find that we are painstakingly besieged with the same, preposterous questions, every year. A couple a years ago I actually got dumped by a guy who simply couldn’t fathom why I wouldn’t go on dates with him during Ramadan or why I didn’t meet him for lunch, dinner or worse yet ‘Netflix and Chill’. Admittedly, he was a European atheist, but regardless of not being from the same faith or culture as me, it takes all of 3.6 seconds to type in ‘fasting’ and ‘Ramadan’ in to Google to figure it all out. In hindsight, getting dumped was a blessing in disguise, he also turned out to be a borderline racist. My sordid dating life aside, I find that I am inundated with the same questions at work too.
“Wait, not even water?!”
“OMG, that’s torture, so wait not even water?”
“So you only eat or drink at night? What if you’re hungry during the day?”
“So not even a sip of water?”
“But isn’t that like, so outdated?”
“Don’t you just pass out? OMG I would just die!”
“So, no water?”
Just for the record, I would like to take a moment and make a short public announcement: during your fast, no, you cannot have water.
In an attempt to save my fellow fasting peers from these eye roll inducing questions, I thought it best to write a succinct Ramadan 101. Please feel free to share this article on your work Slack channel and your HR manager.
The most important Muslim practices in Islam are the Five Pillars of Islam:
Shahadah: sincerely reciting the Muslim profession of faith.
Salat: performing ritual prayers in the proper way five times each day.
Zakat: paying an alms (or charity) tax to benefit the poor and the needy
Sowm: (fasting) in the month of Ramadan
Hajj: (pilgrimage) to the holy city of Mecca (to be performed once in your life)
So, what is fasting?
For a whole month, Muslims observe Sowm, which is to abstain from eating, drinking, engaging in sexual activities and smoking from sunrise to sunset.
Well, a few reasons. The most important reason is to display self-constraint, to find compassion and empathy for those who have nothing. Which leads to the pillar of Islam Zakat - giving charity and alms to the poor. It is a month of self-reflection, meditation, piety and patience. It’s about not giving in to bodily desires but feeding your mind and soul.
Understanding that there are others in the world who have next to nothing, who don’t have anything to break their ‘fast’ and who are living in a state of perpetual hunger and thirst. Fasting helps Muslims develop self-control, become more grateful for the everyday blessings and become more empathetic. These are similar practises of other religions across the world, like Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism and even Zoroastrianism - fasting is another form of prayer.
So now you know why we fast, but what does it actually entail?
Ramadan, which is the Arabic word for ‘scorched’ or ‘desert’, is the 9th month of the Islamic Lunar calendar. It is revered as one of the holiest months for Muslims. Not only was the Qur’an revealed to the Prophet, peace be upon him, by the Angel Gabriel (Gabriel is an arch Angel mentioned in the Abrahamic religions. He features in both Torah, Old and New Testament, The Gospels and the Qur’an) Muslims believe that the scriptures of the Qur’an were revealed to the Prophet Muhammed by the archangel Gabriel in the month of Ramadan. Hence furthering the sanctity of this month.
What is a fast?
To fast is to abstain from drinking, eating, smoking and engaging in sexual activities from the dawn to sunset, for 29-30 days. This is due to the Islamic calendar operating on a Lunar schedule as opposed to Solar. We are also encouraged to stay away from negative activities, such as lying, speaking behind someone’s back, gossiping, cheating, cursing, fighting or insulting. Instead we are encouraged to be kind, helpful, charitable, giving, and to do good deeds.
Does everyone have to fast? What if I can’t?
Despite all the negative propaganda about Muslims in the mainstream media being “hardcore” or stringently strict, in reality, it’s really not like that. Particularly since the days and times in the summer are so long, if you feel like you cannot fast, you are not obliged. In fact, it is as an actual rule that those who are elderly, sick, take medication, pregnant, breastfeeding, travelling, diabetic, have a chronic illness (this is wide ranging) or are menstruating (let’s be real, it’s definitely the one time you look forward to having your period) you don’t have to fast.
Especially with days being so long in the summer, you should never exert or force yourself to fast. For example, if it’s a long, hot day, and you feel dehydrated and sick, you should break your fast immediately and drink some water. Nowhere does it say in the scriptures that you should make yourself ill. Fasting is encouraged for only those who are healthy, able bodied and mentally able to do so.
Personally, I love Ramadan, and I always have. Despite my overt liberal tendencies, I really do enjoy taking part in this month. Not only is it a time to self-reflect, to do good, and be kind to others, but there’s an innate beauty in the entire disciplined ritual. Knowing there are literally hundreds of millions of Muslims around the world observing the same thing, it’s truly heart-warming.
So in short: no, it’s not torture, it’s not a form of punishment, you really can’t have anything from dawn to dusk. Most importantly: yes, I will be hangry for the next month. So, be warned.
"The month of Ramadan begins on 5th May (however this is subject to the sighting of the new moon)"