The month of fasting, devout prayer and evening feasts has begun. Ramadan Muslims – there are 1.6 billion in the world – believe Ramadan is the holiest month in the year , when the Qur’an, the holy book of Islam, was revealed to the prophet Muhammad.
Most non-Muslims have a general understanding of what Ramadan is – at least the daily fasting. But, there are many aspects of the month that aren’t commonly known.
1. Some people are exempt from fasting
Pregnant or breastfeeding mothers, elderly people, travelers, people who are seriously sick or have mental illnesses do not fast. Women on their menstrual cycle can break the fast for those days. Children that have not gone through puberty are also not required to fast during the month Ramadan.
Those who are exempt from fasting can fast at a later date if they are able to, or are required to feed a needy person for each day they do not fast.
Ramadan falls at different times every year since it’s determined by the sighting of a new moon or crescent moon. The sighting of the moon differs between countries so the start and end dates of Ramadan also differ from country to country.
In places where it is not possible to see the crescent moon, Muslims may begin fasting according to the closest place where the moon has been sighted or astronomer calculations. Today, a majority of Muslims rely on announcements made by Islamic authorities from the respective countries.
3. Length of fasting
Depending upon where in the world you live, fasting can last longer. Fasting is done from dawn to dusk so in the far northern hemisphere, where the hours of daylight are so short at this time of year, fasting will last longer. In Reykjavik, Iceland, the fast will be about 21 hours 57 minutes long in the beginning of the month, with a fast starting at 2:03am and finishing at midnight. Those in Sydney, Australia have the shortest fast – from sunrise at 5.29am to sunset at 16.53pm which is about 11 hours and 24 minutes. It’s shorter there since it’s the middle of winter.
3. True meaning of Ramadan
Ramadan means ‘scorched earth’ – coming from the Arabic root word ramiḍa or ar-ramaḍ which means extreme heat or dryness.
Charity is an important part of Ramadan. The practices of Ramadan are meant to purify oneself from any non-Islam thoughts or deeds by removing material desires and focus on devotion. Muslims are obliged to give charity on a regular basis in the form of either Zakat, which is mandatory giving, or Sadaqa, which is voluntary. During Ramadan many Muslims will chose to give more.
5. It’s not just about not eating
Fasting, or sawm in Arabic, literally means “to refrain” – and not only is it abstaining from food, drink but also actions such as smoking cigarettes, sex during the day, talking about others behind their backs, or using foul language.