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An introduction to Muslim fasting in the month of Ramadan

Feb 2021

Perhaps no other month in the year punctuates Muslims' lifestyles around the world more than the holy month of Ramadan. In this month, Muslims observe fasting, one of the five pillars of Islam, by abstaining from eating, drinking, smoking, and sexual intimacy from dawn to dusk.

What is the month of Ramadan?

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, which is based on the lunar system. The month's length could be either 29 or 30 days and has a 12-month cycle revolving around 355 days. As this is ten days less than the Gregorian calendar, the Islamic months, including the month of Ramadan, vary each year in comparison. Yearly, the month of Ramadan advances by about ten days compared to the Gregorian calendar. 

When does the Islamic month begin?

The Islamic month begins with the visual sighting of the new crescent moon. However, now with the ability to calculate the new crescent moon's occurrence very precisely, more and more within the Islamic community align with the month's beginning based on calculations.

When is Ramadan 2021?

The month of Ramadan in 2021 will occur around the 13th of April 2021. The current Islamic year, also called the Hijri year, is 1442. As such, as per the Islamic calendar, this is Ramadan 1442 AH (After Hijra).

Why do Muslims fast during the month of Ramadan?

Fasting during the month of Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam. It is a compulsory form of worship for all Muslim adults, although there are exemptions for the ill and weak. Muslims do not have to fast while traveling, although most opt to fast anyway due to the comfortable facilities available while traveling.

Fasting in Islam. What is allowed and not allowed in Ramadan?

In the Islamic sense, fasting requires one to abstain from eating, drinking, smoking, and sexual intimacy from dawn to dusk. While fasting, Muslims will continue with their normal day-to-day activities; however, they will also allocate additional time and effort towards other religious activities such as reciting the Qur'an, frequenting the Mosque for prayers, doing charitable work, etc.  

The Timing and Definitions of Dawn and Dusk

The beginning and the end of the fasting period for a given day are calculated based on sunrise and sunset. These times vary, depending mainly on the geographical location and the day of the year.

The time to commence fasting coincides with the first of the five daily prayers a Muslim has to perform, referred to as Fajr prayers. The conclusion of the day's fasting period corresponds with the 4th of the five daily prayers, called Maghrib. The timings of the five daily prayers for any given location can be got from HalalTrip.com here

Iftar and Suhour Meals

The morning meal taken before the beginning of the fasting period is called Suhour, and the meal taken at the breaking of a fast when the fasting period ends is called Iftar. These are very important meals for Muslims. It is best to take Suhour as near as possible to the start of the fasting period, and Iftar should be taken as soon as the fasting period ends.

Duration of fasting

The fasting period's length can vary substantially across different parts of the world due to the changing times of sunrise and sunset. Although the average fasting time during Ramadan is between 11-16 hours per day, certain parts of the world, such as Europe, can experience fasting durations exceeding 20 hours when Ramadan occurs during the summer months. 

Daytime temperature in some parts of the world

In some parts of the world, when Ramadan happens during summer, the daytime temperature could soar above 40°C. As such, while lifestyle changes may be common for Muslims worldwide, the experience of fasting itself may be different for Muslims living in different regions due to the impact of the duration of fasting and daytime temperatures.

Eating of dates to break the fast

Dates are the fruits of the date palm tree that is very commonly grown in the Middle East. It can be eaten fresh or dried and is commonly sold dried as it has a better shelf life. Dates are a significant part of Islamic tradition and are usually used to break the fast.

Taraweeh Prayers

During the month of Ramadan, most Muslims will pray an additional congregational prayer called the Taraweeh prayer. The timing of the Taraweeh prayer is after the last of the five prayers of the day, known as the Isha'a prayers.

Eid-ul-Fitr and Prayers

The end of the fasting month (Ramadan) is celebrated on the 1st day of the month of Shawwaal. This festival is called Eid-ul-Fitr. Muslims will greet each other with the words "Eid Mubarak" on this day, a traditional greeting that translates to "May you enjoy a blessed festival."

The day will start with a congregational prayer at a mosque; these prayers' timings will vary from place to place, but it is generally always in the early morning. 

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