While the 2.38 billion Christians across the world get back to normality after celebrating Christmas and New Year, the globe’s 1.91 billion Muslims are preparing themselves for Ramadan 2023, which is due to start on Wednesday 22nd March.
In anticipation, we thought we would put together a simple guide to what Ramadan is, what it celebrates, how is it celebrated, and what it means for Muslims all over the world.
What is Ramadan?
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and is the month in which all eligible Muslims must abstain from all food and water from sunrise to sundown.
For the thirty days of Ramadan, the sawm, or fast, is said to encourage Muslims to practice self control and self discipline, and redirect their attention away from the earthly, and more towards the spiritual. Fasting cleanses the soul, and encourages sacrifice and empathy towards those less fortunate, which is why charity is such an important element of Ramadan.
What are the fasting rules for Ramadan
During Ramadan, the day starts just before the sun comes up with prayers followed by the Suhoor, a meal which is eaten just before the sun rises. Once Suhoor is completed, fasting begins.
During the fasting period, no food or drink must pass the lips. This also includes cigarettes. Muslims are encouraged to read the Qur’an and pray for strength and inspiration during this time, and seeking forgiveness and rewards.
The fast is broken when the sun goes down. This makes it more difficult when Ramadan falls in the summer months when the days are longer. Traditionally the fast is broken by drinking a glass of water and eating three dates, in recognition of Muhammad’s own habit of breaking the fast with three dates.
The Iftar is the meal that is served in the evening after prayers and tends to be quite a social affair in Muslim communities.
Can you be exempt from fasting?
Those who are exempt from fasting include those who are travelling, menstruating, are severely ill, or are pregnant or breastfeeding. If you are not exempt but break your fast either intentionally or unintentionally, then you are obliged to pay fines – Fidya or Kaffarah.
Why do the dates change every year?
The dates for Ramadan follow the course of the Islamic calendar, which is a lunar calendar and so shifts by about ten days every year. This means that every year Ramadan is 10 days earlier than the previous year.
What is Zakat?
Zakat is one of the five pillars of Islam and sits alongside Sawm (fasting) as a religious duty. All Muslims are obliged to donate 2.5% of their income to benefit the poor, which helps you to acknowledge that your wealth actually comes from God, and should be shared back with those less fortunate. Zakat is paid throughout the year.
At the end of Ramadan, before Eid (which is the three day celebration at the end of Ramadan) Muslims must pay a compulsory donation called Zakat-ul-Fitr or Fitrana. This payment is specifically aimed at buying food for hungry, poverty stricken families, orphans and widows throughout the world, allowing them the opportunity to enjoy Eid celebrations and eat a nutritious meal.
What is Eid?
Eid al-Fitr marks the end of Ramadan and fasting, and is a time for Muslim communities to come together for three days of eating, praying, celebrating, and meeting with friends and families. Eid takes place during the first three days of Shawwal, the tenth month of the Islamic calendar. Traditionally families dress up in new clothes and gather throughout the day, enjoying plentiful food.