A non-Muslim's guide to Ramadan

17 May 2018

What is Ramadan?


Ramadan is the ninth holy month in the Islamic Calendar, when Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset for approximately 30 days. The Islamic calendar is based on the lunar cycle which began after Prophet Muhammad migrated from Mecca to Medina in AD 622. Fasting is also a fundamental element of the five pillars of Islam. The Ramadan dates change annually by 10/11 days as they’re determined by the sighting of a crescent moon (hilal). Many countries start and end their fasts on different dates and this is dependent on when the moon is sighted in each country. For countries where the moon sighting is obscured, Muslims in those countries often rely on neighboring countries where the moon has been sighted. However, many Muslim countries follow the call from Mecca as it is the holy city. Depending on the crescent moon sighting this year, Ramadan is expected to fall on the evening of Wednesday 15th May, with the first fast commencing on Thursday 16th May.


Who is allowed to take part in the fasting?


Muslim men and women are required to fast during the month. With this being said, Islam gives room for exceptions in almost all acts of worship based on certain considerations. For example, children, pregnant women, individuals on daily medication, menstruating women and those with any other health complications are exempt from fasting. Those with temporary impairments are obliged to make up the days they have missed in Ramadan before the next Ramadan.


What do Muslims do on Ramadan?


During Ramadan, Muslims fast between dawn and sunset, abstaining from food, drink, smoking and sex. However, fasting does not pardon Muslims from their daily routines, instead they are expected to continue to do their normal activities. Muslims do not just refrain from eating, this is also a time to reflect and think about bettering themselves spirituality.


To some, Ramadan is also an opportunity to give up detrimental desires and habits for good. For example, many Muslims have found it easier to quit smoking during Ramadan. Muslims are also encouraged to increase all acts of worship like prayer, reading the Quran in order to form a better connection to God. Muslims also believe that acts of generosity and giving will be reciprocated by God. Community cohesion and family involvement is another element that is enforced by Ramadan. Muslims invite their friends, families to open their fasts in the evening. Mosques cater to those who are homeless and reverts by providing iftar (full evening meal services).  Muslims believe that the more people taking part in iftar, the greater the blessing. This is coupled with the congregational Tarawih prayers, these are special night prayers that are only prayed in Ramadan.


Are there any health benefits from this fasting?


Many studies have found that fasting lowered ‘’bad’’ Low- density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels by 8 percent during the course of Ramadan. This reduces the chances of developing cardiovascular diseases. In many countries specialist dietitians are setting up Ramadan diet plans in order to help overweight people achieve their goals. These diets consist of the traditional foods eaten during. Ramadan can also be an opportunity to change negative eating habits especially for those who consume food rich in sugar and fat. Swapping food that contains high levels of sugar for those with whole grain and high fiber content will not only be beneficial during the fast but also reduce the calorie intake.


Can non- Muslims get involved?


Non-Muslims can take part in some aspects of Ramadan. As mentioned above, they have the opportunity to gain health benefits and as well as remove health damaging habits. Some do not actively get involved but instead help out in food stalls to provide iftar for those fasting. Another way non-Muslims can take part is by showing solidarity and respect by not eating in front of those fasting.


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