Selam aleykum and Ramazan mubarek! Today (or, technically, yesterday night) begins Ramadan, a very special and blessed month in the religion of Islam! As I began preparing for my first month of fasting I realized that I didn’t really know much about Ramadan, besides that fasting from sun up til sun down is required. I struck out on a quest to learn more about it, and I would be happy to share some information about it with you!
What is Ramadan
Ramadan is the 9th month of the Islamic calendar (a lunar calendar) and is the month during which the Quran was first revealed to the Prophet Muhammed (SAW). The gregorian calendar that we use in the USA is set, but lunar calendars change based on the phases of the moon, which explains why the days of Ramadan fall on different days of the gregorian calendar every year (this year, fasting begins June 28 and ends July 28).
During Ramadan the gates of Hell are locked up, and the gates of Heaven are wide open. The value of good deeds are multiplied during this month, where in obligatory good deeds are multiplied 70 times, while voluntary good deeds are worth as much as the obligatory ones. Sincere praying, fasting, and charity during the month of Ramadan can cleanse the sins you have committed during the previous months. Indeed, the month of Ramadan is very blessed, Subhanallah!
Why do muslims fast for Ramadan
Fasting was perscribed by the Prophet (SAW) as an act of worship during Ramadan. By denying yourself those carnal desires that are permissible (halal), you can surely deny yourself the desires that are not permissible (haram) during Ramadan and the rest of the year! Fasting is as much mental as it is physical, sharpening your mind and your soul/spirituality (imaan) by focusing on your spirituality rather than your physicality. Additionally, by fasting we feel the pangs of hunger and thirst that those less fortunate than ourselves experience on a daily basis. This helps us to develop empathy and give more freely to those in need.
How and when to fast during Ramadan
Fasting in Islam is more than just obstaining from food. During Ramadan muslims are to obstain from all food and beverages (including water) from sun up (Imsak) until sun down (Iftar). This includes simply rinsing your mouth with water, or chewing gum. You can’t just look outside and tell when to break and begin fast, you need to check the calendar provided by mosques, masjids, and other Islamic sources. The time spent fasting varies by country/ state. During these fasting hours, you are also forbidden from other typical haram acts, such as swearing, gossiping, and drinking alcohol, acts that are discouraged (makrooh) such as smoking, and sexual acts with ones spouse (which is halal).
The only time rinsing your mouth during the fasting hours won’t discredit your fast is during wudu (abtest/ ablutions), the ritual cleansing practiced before prayers/ reading the Quran. There are other activities that can break your fast, such as vomiting or excessive bleeding from the mouth, among others.
During the evening hours, all halal acts that are obstained from during fasting are permissible :) until fasting begins again the following day.
Every able bodied/minded muslim should fast during Ramadan. Exceptions include: the very young/old, the sick/recovering, pregnant/breastfeeding women, women during menstruation, those traveling and people undergoing rigorous physical activities, such as soldiers in battle. However, there is a price to missing fast. When fast is missed (by days, weeks, or the whole month), one must either make up those days of fasting later, or feed/pay to feed a person in need for every day you miss. There are some guidelines on which of these actions are better for each situation, but I am not fully sure of them and don’t want to mislead anyone.
Beginning fast and Suhoor
Suhoor is the morning meal that is consumed before fasting begins. It is imperative to eat this morning meal and drink lots of water, since you will be fueling your body for an entire day on this food. There are blessing in Suhoor, and it is sunnet (the way of the Prophet [SAW]) to eat Suhoor as late as possible, before fasting begins (Imsak). Typical suhoor foods can be found on various websites (such as My Halal Kitchen), but breakfast foods accompanied with fresh fruits and vegetables are the norm.
Breaking fast (Iftar)
Fasting ends at the time of the evening prayer (maghrib/ aksam), which is sunset. The sunnet way of breaking fast is with the consumption of water, a date, or an olive. It is good to start slowly with the Iftar meal, since your stomach has shrunk during the day. Don’t forget to rehydrate!
What to do during Ramadan
There is more than just fasting to be done during the month of Ramadan! It is good to focus on your spiritual side, and take on some other goals for the month! Some people undertake reading the whole Quran during Ramadan (20 pages a day), or learn new Surahs to use for prayer. Besides the typical 5 daily prayers, there are night prayers that are strongly encouraged during Ramadan. During these holy nights, it is said that Allah (SWT) will give anything one supplicates for. Allah (SWT) is indeed gracious. For additional religous lectures during Ramadan, visit the Quran weekly youtube site for Quranic Gems by Br. Nouman Ali Khan!
Other holidays (Eid) related to Ramadan
There are a couple of other religious holidays around Ramadan! The Kandil holidays (typically celebrated in Turkey) fall on days during the month before Ramadan and celebrate various important events preceeding the revelation of the Quran (such as the Prophet’s [SAW] tour of Heaven with Gabriel). After Ramadan is Eid-Al-Fitr (Seker Bayram/Sugar bayram), the day after Ramadan, during which is much feasting and celebrating. However, don’t forget to do your required charity before this holiday! Each household must feed/ pay to feed one needy person per every person in your household before this Bayram, or all of your fasting and good deeds may not be accepted by Allah (SWT)!
(Any information here that is wrong or left out is due to my human flaws, and everything right is only due to Allah SWT)
As I said before, this is my first Ramadan! I am going on hour 10 and Allah (SWT) has made it easy for me thus far, alhamdullilah. I am able to stay home all day today which has made it much easier than it could have been. Inshallah it will be this easy on days I am more busy.
Inshallah your Ramadan will be productive and blessed <3