A Beginner’s Guide to Ramadan

The arrival of the new moon late last week marked the end of Ramadan. For the previous month, 1 billion Muslims worldwide, including 6 million in the United States, fasted daily from sunrise to sunset.

Since many of our students are Muslim, we asked them to educate us about this holy month of Islam. Here are their answers to 6 frequently asked questions:

What is the meaning of Ramadan?
Ramadan is celebrated within Islam every year for 29-30 days. It comes as a direct order from the Quran (Islam’s holy book) and, therefore, Allah. The month is a time for deep prayer, reflection, and fasting, during which Muslims seek to purify their body and mind. Ramadan also marks the time when the Quran came to the Prophet Mohammad.

Often called the “month of equality,” Ramadan is a time that connects you to others; the rich, the poor – everyone is fasting. Fasting also helps you remember the suffering of the world. It reminds you that there are people starving every day. When you are hungry throughout the day, you feel the people who have nothing to eat. You think of those who are not going to break any fast when the sun sets.

Why do you fast?
Number one, you fast because it is a command from Allah. If you believe in the Quran, fasting is a must. It is part of the religion and culture. Allah helps you and loves you, so you fast for Him.

Also, you fast for your health. The 11 other months of the year, you sometimes ingest bad foods or chemicals. When you fast, you feel pure, clear, and healthy.

At what age do people begin fasting?
Parents often begin teaching their children to fast at a young age, anywhere from 7-12 years old! They start with only half a day or one or two days at a time. Many people experience strong feelings of respect and pride with their first fast.

One student, in particular, spoke about learning to fast at the age of 10. She explained how happy she was when her parents said she could start. Her mother reminded her that she was still young and growing and should eat sometimes. The student ignored her and decided to fast on “off” days. She argued with her mom and finally ate after almost fainting. The student laughed as she told this story, saying she had a strong and persistent faith even at a young age.

What is a typical day like?
Everyone’s schedule is a little different, depending on things like night shifts or early morning work. Generally, you fast and pray throughout the day. During this time, you might also try to be less active.

You break the fast at sunset. When Ramadan falls during the winter (it moves with the lunar calendar), the days are much shorter. But when it falls during summer months, this far north, Muslims are fasting for up to 18 hours a day!

Around 9pm, you start by having something small like dates, fruit, and water. Then you pray, which is followed by relaxation and more eating. You eat again around 3:40am, before the next prayer. Then you pray and maybe sleep. After this, you do not eat or drink anything again, including water, until sunset.

During the last 10 days of Ramadan, if you are able, you stay up the whole night praying, either at home or at the mosque. It is believed that on one of these nights Allah will forgive 1,000 months of sins! Allah will save you, and you will have a long life.

Are there any exemptions to fasting?
Fasting is never meant to cause harm. Exemptions include people who are sick, very elderly, pregnant, or breastfeeding.

If you are not able to fast, you must observe Ramadan by helping others. You may feed someone who is fasting in your stead; you prepare their food for the breaking of the fast. You can also donate money. Immigrants often send money to family back home.

How do you celebrate the end of Ramadan?
The sighting of the new moon marks the beginning of Eid-ul-fitr, “the feast of breaking the fast.” You clean your house and decorate it in new fabrics. You spend time with family, eat special food, and buy children new clothes. It is a day of fun and celebration! In Minnesota, it is common to go to the Mall of America because children like the rides.

In the closing words of a student, “Try fasting. You might like it! Ramadan Kareem and Eid Mubarak.” Happy Ramadan and Blessed Eid!