April marks the beginning of Ramadan for Muslims around the world. Our Associate Rakin Hamad, a Muslim himself, shares some great information about Ramadan and how it impacts Muslims across the world.
What is Ramadan?
Ramadan is the holy month for Muslims. During Ramadan, Muslims fast every day of the month. Fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam. The five pillars of Islam are considered the essential obligations of a Muslim. People of all faiths participate in fasting as part of their religion, but a couple of things make fasting during Ramadan unique.
First, during Ramadan, a fasting individual does not put anything in their body from dawn to sunset. This means no water, no food, no coffee, no gum, no cigarettes, no sexual activity, or anything else from dawn to sunset. This year, in Virginia, on April 1, an individual living in Alexandria, VA, will fast from 5:38 a.m. to sunset at 7:33 p.m. These times will change as the month progresses as every day dawn is earlier and sunset is later. For example, on the last day of Ramadan, Muslims in Alexandria, VA will fast from 4:50 a.m. to 8:01 p.m.
While this may sound miserable, Ramadan is also a time of celebration for Muslims. On most nights, Muslims will have big dinners with their families, friends, and community members in celebration of completing the fast for that day.
Another unique part of Ramadan is the time. While Ramadan lasts 30 days every year, it does not always occur in April. Ramadan is based on the lunar calendar, which is different from the standard 365-day Gregorian calendar. This means that Ramadan starts roughly ten days earlier every year. For example, next year, Ramadan will begin in mid-March.
Why do Muslims Participate in Ramadan?
Fasting during Ramadan serves multiple purposes for Muslims. The first purpose of Ramadan is to help individuals empathize and have more compassion for the impoverished. Another pillar of Islam is “zakat,” which means to donate to those in need. Fasting helps remind Muslims why they should donate to those less fortunate than themselves. In addition to the reminder of how the less fortunate feel, another purpose of fasting is to develop an appreciation for all of your blessings.
Fasting is also a way to develop discipline. Fasting is seen as a way to develop control of an individual’s desires and help individuals abstain from sin. The thinking is if an individual can stop themselves from eating and drinking every day for 30 days, they will be able to stop themselves from participating in immoral activity.
How To I Be Mindful of Muslims During Ramadan?
There are a couple of things you can do to help support fasting Muslims. First, if you know someone is fasting, abstaining from eating, drinking, or chewing gum in front of them can help them complete their fast. In Arabic countries, eating or drinking in front of a fasting individual is considered extremely disrespectful. Depending on the individual’s acclimation to the United States, you could be disrespecting someone with an ordinarily gracious act. Most Muslims will not take offense to this, but simply asking whether the individual is fasting first would make a big difference to that individual and would signal an understanding of that client’s religion.
In Muslim countries, Ramadan is a community event, and participating with Muslim neighbors, friends, and colleagues in Ramadan is a way to help support American Muslims and help create that community atmosphere. Some ways to participate in Ramadan are to fast for a day, invite fasting individuals over for dinner, and to break fast with them. Other ways include donating to charities or participating in volunteer acts that help the less fortunate. These are not expected acts, but they are the type of acts that show Muslims that you understand the intent of Ramadan.
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