Have you ever wondered what Ramadan is all about? MaJhane is giving you a crash course on this Muslim holiday so that you have the basic tools to support your Muslim friends. If you are interested in the transcribed version of this episode, click here. If you want to stay updated, be sure to check out this page!
Arabic Word Bank (in order of appearance)
Ramadan – ninth month in the Islamic Calendar
Islamic Calendar – 12 lunar months in a year of 354 or 355 days
Qu’ran – the central religious text of Islam
Five Pillars of Islam – five principles expected of every Muslim
Suhoor – the meal eaten before sunrise
Iftar – the meal eaten after sunset
Taraweeh – voluntary prayer
Eid al-Fitr – the feast of fast-breaking
Ramadan Mubarak – Happy Ramadan
Eid Mubarak – Blessed Feast/Festival
Let’s Talk About Ramadan
I want to first start this blog post by saying that I know very little about Ramadan. What is more, the introduction to this holiday came from my now best friend in a pre-college summer program where I got to witness it up close. I didn’t ask too many questions about it for fear of sounding ignorant or uncultured, but now, looking back on it, I wish I did. Nonetheless, I’ve taken the time to research the basics so that this can be as informative for you as it has been for me. In this blog post, I will share the history of Ramadan, how it’s celebrated, and also incorporate what I witnessed during this holiday at that summer program.
Let’s start with the basics! What is Ramadan? According to BBC journalist Nabihah Parkar in the article, “What is Ramadan and when is it?,” the word Ramadan means the ninth month in the Islamic calendar in Arabic. The first chapters of the Qu’ran were revealed to the prophet Muhammad during the month of Ramadan, making this a sacred month. Ramadan is one of the holiest Islamic months while also being one of the Five Pillars of Islam. If you are unfamiliar, the Five Pillars of Islam are five principles expected of every Muslim. Under those circumstances, Ramadan is a time where Muslims fast and pray to become closer to God.
When Does Ramadan Happen?
It’s important to note that the Islamic calendar and the Gregorian (what most non-Muslim countries use) calendar are not the same. The Islamic calendar follows the lunar calendar with months that last about 30 days. Because of this, Ramadan does not start on the same day each year. Instead, the month of Ramadan begins with the new moon. When I was first introduced to this holiday, it was at a pre-college summer program where I met one of my best friends. About a week into the program, he told us how he couldn’t eat lunch because it was Ramadan. I bring this up because that was in July 2012, while this holiday is currently happening this year in mid-April.
How Ramadan Fasting Works
Even though fasting is part of the Five Pillars of Islam, some people can be exempt from participation. These exceptions include pregnant and breastfeeding women, women on their period, children, and those who are sick, to name a few.
When you think about Ramadan, the main thing you probably think about is fasting. With this in mind, it’s important to note that fasting lasts from sunrise to sunset. Suhoor is the meal eaten before the sunrise, and Iftar is the meal eaten once the sun goes down. Here is an excerpt from the book “What do Muslims Believe?” by Ziauddin Sardar that gives a deeper explanation of why fasting is so important:
“Fasting is a form of travel; and those who fast, travel to attain proximity to God. Fasting has a personal and social dimension. It teaches the individual to be prepared to suffer deprivation and undergo hardship rather than give into temptation… Just as physical exercise strengthens the body, so moral exercise through fasting fortifies the resolve. The person who is able to control his or her desire is the person who can attain true spiritual and moral greatness…Socially, the rich and poor are brought to the same level; in their private existence, both go through the same hardship. And both are required to go out during [this special month] to do good to humanity.“
I wanted to include that excerpt because I didn’t realize that fasting was deeper than not eating and drinking for a certain amount of time. Fasting teaches you the importance of resisting temptation and directing your focus on God and His word.
When I first heard about fasting, I was concerned about my best friend not eating for a full month. Aside from the obvious starvation, I thought he would experience; I was also nervous about how the activities we did during the summer program would affect him. I learned quickly that he did eat, just not at the same hours that I did. I’ll never forget how he still participated in all the activities, in the middle of a hot summer, with zero complaints. This showed me how strong and serious his faith is.
What are Ramadan Traditions
Fasting isn’t the only thing that happens during Ramadan. As I mentioned earlier, this is also a time where Muslims pray to be closer to God. Prayer itself isn’t anything new for a practicing Muslim as they pray 5 times a day. However, according to the article Ramadan 101: All You Need To Know About The Holy Month written by Maliha Rahman, Taraweeh, or voluntary prayer, is an additional night of prayer that exclusively happens during Ramadan.
Eid al-Fitr, or “Feast of fast-breaking,” is a celebration that marks the end of Ramadan. This celebration consists of enjoying a large meal with family as well as gift exchanges.
How to Share the Spirit of Ramadan as a Non-Muslim
I am not a practicing Muslim, but I have always made it a point to wish my best friend a “Ramadan Mubarak,” which means “Happy Ramadan!” He has always appreciated the effort, and I think it’s good practice to support people in their religion even if it may be different from your own. When Ramadan is over be sure to wish your friend “Eid Mubarak,” which means “Blessed Feast/Festival” as well! Taking the time to research and understand the meaning behind a holiday you don’t celebrate creates a more understanding society. Do your part by understanding why a holiday holds so much meaning to a community of people. It just might change your perspective on life.
This week I challenge you to acknowledge the people in your life who are celebrating Ramadan this year. We make it a point to wish people a “Merry Christmas” without actually checking to see if they celebrate that holiday. Why not wish your friends who celebrate Ramadan a “Ramadan Mubarak?” And If you have the time, do your own light research and share it with a friend who may not know much about Ramadan. I also recommend the book “What Muslims Believe?” if you want to get more information on the religion and its practices. I bought this book to get a better understanding of my best friend and years later it has helped me to share parts of Ramadan that I wouldn’t have known.
If you find this information helpful, be sure to check out my other posts! Until we meet again, please be kind to one another, and from the bottom of my heart, I love you.
Parkar, Nabihah. “What Is Ramadan and when is it?” BBC News, BBC, 13 Apr. 2021, www.bbc.com/news/explainers-56695447.
Rahman, Maliha. “Ramadan 101: All You Need To Know About The Holy Month.” Muslim, Muslim, 22 May 2020, muslim.co/ramadan-101-all-you-need-to-know-about-the-holy-month/.
What Do Muslims Believe?: The Roots and Realities of Modern Islam, by Ziauddin Sardar, Walker & Company, 2007, pp. 68.