The Quad: A beginner’s guide to Ramadan, Islam’s holy month of fasting

(Daily Bruin file photo)

(Daily Bruin file photo)

“Not even water?”

This is one of the more persistent questions people ask me – and many other Muslims – each year when we are fasting during Ramadan.

Lack of understanding like this is common, and it’s worth taking a second to clear up common misconceptions.

To start off: No, not even water. Ramadan is a holy month in Islam, observed by fasting from dawn until sundown each day to mark the anniversary of the revelation of the Quran, the Muslim holy book. The fast involves abstaining from food, drink and a variety of actions and behaviors, such as talking about people behind their backs, lying or cursing.

We can’t have food or drink for the majority of the day, from dawn to sundown. It sounds hard, but after the third or fourth day, people tend to get used to it. While the fast is only required of adults, when I was growing up, I practiced by fasting as long as I could, then giving up. When I was seven, I started by fasting half days. The next year, my mom said I insisted on fasting the full day, just like my mom and my dad did. It’s easy to pick up; your body gets used to it quickly.

There are also lots of strategies to make fasting easier. For one, most Muslims wake up before dawn to eat “suhoor” – a late night, early morning meal to prepare them for the fast – before they have to abstain from food and drink for upwards of 12 hours. Others might try to nap whenever they are free to keep their energy up. I’ve found that nothing is more refreshing in Ramadan than a splash of cold water to the face.

Another interesting thing non-Muslim people do is wish us a “Happy Ramadan”. Here’s the thing: Ramadan isn’t a holiday – it’s a holy month of worship, much like Lent or Yom Kippur, not a holiday like Christmas or Easter. Rather than wishing someone a “Happy Ramadan,” you can wish them “Ramadan Mubarak” – which means, “Have a blessed Ramadan” in Arabic – or “Ramadan Kareem,” which means, “May Ramadan be generous to you.”

The holiday Muslims do celebrate is Eid al-Fitr, which starts the day after Ramadan ends, and lasts for three days. Eid al-Fitr, or just Eid as many Muslims refer to it, is a celebration of the passing of Ramadan and the accomplishment of fasting. You can feel free to wish your Muslim friends “Happy Eid.” This year, this is expected to take place June 15, although it is based on the lunar calendar, so the date could shift if the new moon arrives sooner than expected.

When it comes to helping your friends get through Ramadan, there’s a lot that can be done. For one, don’t stop inviting your Muslim friends to hang out during Ramadan. When it comes to activities during the month, everyone is different. Some try to minimize the energy they exert during Ramadan by avoiding going out with friends, but others might find themselves bored and looking for something to do. So if you have Muslim friends, you don’t have to avoid asking them to hang out. Just make sure that when you do invite them to, you plan a fun activity that doesn’t just involve eating or spending long hours in the heat. This could be anything from watching a movie to visiting a museum.

I don’t mind when my non-Muslim friends eat or drink around me during Ramadan – as long as they’re respectful about it. I find that comments such as, “I bet you probably wish you could eat right now,” are unwanted and unnecessary.

Ramadan is hard enough as it is. Most of us don’t want to deal with answering the same questions over and over again. So Google what you can, and we’ll be happy to answer whatever other questions you have.

Ramadan Mubarak.


Categories: Arab World, Europe, Islam

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