Ramadan is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar, a holy month for Muslims, who fast, pray and practice introspection during this time. In 2023, Ramadan begins on March 22and ends on April 20 with the celebration of Eid.
Ramadan is not a federal holiday in the United States and so businesses and shops will be open as usual.
It is common to greet one another during Ramadan with expressions such as Ramadan Mubarak which means "have a blessed Ramadan", or Ramadan Kareem which translates as "have a generous Ramadan".
At the end of Ramadan, during the celebration of Eid (also known as the Festival of Sweets) it is common to greet each other with Eid Mubarak; "have a blessed Eid".
History of Ramadan
One of the main prophets of Islam was Muhammad. It is believed that in 610 A.D. Allah started sending him messages and revelations through the angel Gabriel. These revelations were only delivered during Ramadan, and it was through the course of five Ramadans that Muhammad compiled the messages into a 114-chapter book that would become known as the Quran, the holy book of Islamic faith, that Muslims believe holds the words of Allah.
As the Quran, which contains guidance for Muslims, was revealed during Ramadan, this became a holy month in the Islamic faith, and the Quran orders that fasting should be the way to observe this month.
The Five Pillars of Islam
It is the Quran that lays out the Five Pillars of Islam, that Muslims should follow strictly to achieve salvation. These are:
Shahada: a declaration of faith to the only one God and his prophet Muhammad.
Salah: prayer, as Muslims are meant to pray five times a day.
Zakat: practicing charitable actions.
Sawm: fasting, the foundation of Ramadan, and the way to achieve taqwa.
Hajj: the pilgrimage - every Muslim should travel to Mecca at least once in their life.
During Ramadan, fasting is obligatory for adults of the Muslim faith, this means they do not eat or drink from sunrise to sunset. They also abstain from sexual intercourse. At the end of the daily fast, during the night, Muslims share meals, with family or friends which is called Iftar. As fasting is seen as a spiritual principle, Ramadan is also a time when people abstain from anything impure such as alcohol consumption, cigarettes, bad behaviors, and impure thoughts, and instead, dedicate themselves to prayer and charity.
The necessity of all Muslims to participate in Sawm (fasting) makes Ramadan an important part of the five pillars of Islam.
When to Eat
The two meals of the day during Ramadan happen before dawn and after sunset and are called suhoor and iftar, respectively. The Iftar is usually a communal meal, with traditional dishes and rich desserts being served. Muslims usually begin each meal by breaking their fast by eating three dates.
After each meal, people perform a prayer, and they are meant to pray five times each day, with extra nightly prayers being encouraged during Ramadan, although they are not mandatory. Muslims are also called to read the thirty sections of the Quran during the thirty days of Ramadan.
Ramadan Practices and Rules
Ramadan is, above all, a time for Muslims to practice introspection and better themselves, by practicing self-discipline and control, as well as a time to strengthen their faith and devotion. This is why fasting is practiced during Ramadan, as it is believed to cleanse the soul, and redirect the heart away from worldly sins and into spiritual improvement.
For the fast to be valid, people must share their intention to fast before dawn, and therefore Muslims often make a declaration the night before that they choose to fast.
Exemptions from Ramadan
Young children are exempt from taking part in Ramadan. Parents however are encouraged to teach children the value of fasting and maybe let them fast for short periods during Ramadan.
Sick people, with either physical or mental illnesses, are also exempt from participating in the fast. Those with illnesses from which they will recover are permitted to fast at a later date. If the illness is a lifelong condition then rather than fasting the person is permitted to donate food to the hungry instead. The food they should give to the hungry is rationed at one kilogram of wheat or the equivalent in money per fast. Illnesses such as Diabetes do not necessarily exempt the individual from participating in Ramadan, it depends on the person, as well as the type and severity of the condition.
Elderly people are exempt from taking part in Ramadan, particularly those who are weak. They can fast at another time of the year, or pay for the hungry to have the equivalent number of meals. This fee that is paid is known as the fidyah.
Other exemptions include travelers (those who are more than 48 miles away from home), people with certain other medical conditions, and those who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or menstruating.
How to Celebrate
Ramadan is a time for spiritual reflection, self-discipline, and self-control, as well as an opportunity to practice empathy and compassion for those less fortunate. It is also a time for increased prayer, reading the Quran, and giving to charity. Through the practice of fasting, Muslims gain a deeper understanding of the suffering of the less fortunate and learn to appreciate the blessings in their lives. It is a time for personal and spiritual growth, as well as strengthening community and family bonds.
For non-Muslims, it's important to respect the beliefs and practices of those who are observing Ramadan. Try to be mindful that Muslim friends will probably be fasting while observing early and late meals, which might affect their day-to-day routine. Also, you can spend time learning a little bit more about their beliefs, and wish them Ramadan mubarak.