The first day of of the holy month of Ramadaan, is likely to commence on Saturday, the 2nd of April. And most of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims in the world will observe it in some form. This means that a friend, coworker, neighbour or family member will be participating in rituals and traditions unique to this month.
But what exactly is Ramadaan? What’s the big deal? And is there any special you should do or say to a Muslim during this time? Below are some questions you may have been embarrassed to ask or are simply curious to know.
What is Ramadaan – exactly?
During the entire month, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. This month is meant as a spiritual time – one, where Muslims are encouraged to contemplate their relationship with The Almighty, increase in prayers and charity. It was reported by a companion of the Prophet Muhammad that he once said:
‘When there comes the month of Ramadan, the gates of mercy are opened, and the gates of Hell are locked and the devils are chained’
The month of Ramadaan includes the Night of Power (Lailat ul Qadr in Arabic), a sacred evening that marks the event when God revealed the first verses of the Qur’an to Muhammad, more than 1400 years ago. In Cape Town, and other parts of the world, Ramadaan is a time for celebration with loved ones; sharing meals, gifts and spiritual reminders.
Eid-ul Fitr or Labarang as is commonly known in Cape Town is a time of celebration, and marks the end of Ramadaan.
How does Ramadaan work?
During the month of Ramadaan, Muslims abstain from any food and drink between the morning prayer, Fajr, to the evening prayer, Maghrib. Abstinence from smoking and sexual activity is also required. Taking medications through out the day or even chewing gum will nullify a person’s fast. All Muslims are required to partake in this, however, there are special exemptions for those who are sick, pregnant, menstruating, travelling and the really young or elderly. If a person’s fast becomes invalid, they can simply make up for the loss of that day by fasting right after Ramadaan or later in the year.
During this time, Muslims are greatly encouraged to be mindful of negative habits like swearing, gossiping or feelings of hatred and jealousy. Some, choose to limit their use of other things like music and watching television.
READ MORE: The Muslim holy month of Ramadaan
What does a typical day in Ramadaan look like?
Muslims wake up really early, before dawn, to eat breakfast. It is highly encouraged to eat foods that are filling, wholesome and hydrating. During time, it is recommended to drink as much water as possible. When the time for the Fajr prayer comes, the fasting begins. In Cape Town, the time of Fajr is just before 6AM, so after prayers, many will get ready for school or work. Muslims are supposed to go about their daily life as per normal which can include going to work or attending classes. Some do find the early stages of the Fast to be rather tough on their bodies. But for the most part, Muslims can fulfill daily tasks and duties. It was reported that the Prophet Muhammad said:
When the night approaches and the day retreates and the sun sinks down, then the observer of the fast should break it
When the call for prayer or Athaan is made for the evening prayer, Maghrib (roughly 6.30PM in Cape Town) – it is time to break the fast! This meal is called iftaar or boeka, locally. The evenings are no break from the spiritual opportunities of the month, engaging in salaah (prayers), duah (supplications) or thikr (audible meditation).
How can I show my respect to Muslim friends during Ramadaan?
May Muslims do not expect our non-Muslim friends or colleagues to radically change their behaviour to accommodate this religious fasting. Here are some things you can do to show support:
- If you share an office space with someone who is fasting, try not to eat your lunch by your desk where your hungry co-worker will smell your yummy food
- If you’re having a party, and want to invite your Muslim friends, try and schedule things after sunset so that they can eat with you
- Be mindful not to offer them a bite or to try a new snack, sometimes a fasting person may forget that they are fasting, and absentmindedly take the food. If you happen to offer a fasting person a snack, it is okay, and is not something they will get offended by. Unless done with hurtful intent
- You can wish the Muslims in your life a ‘Happy Ramadaan’. If want to show them that you made an effort – ‘Ramadaan Kareem’ (have a generous Ramadaan) or ‘Ramadaan Mubarak’ (have a blessed Ramadaan).
For some, Ramadaan can be tough – some countries have to fast for up to 15 hours every day! But for the billions out there (including myself), Ramadaan is always heavily treasured and dearly missed when it is over.