Learning More About Ramadan

Over the past few weeks I have noticed many articles online listing facts about the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which is being celebrated around the world right now. Lists like this one from Buzzfeed, or this one from The Huffington Post give us a smattering of facts that, chances are, you didn’t know before reading. While these articles can be enlightening, it struck me that they were not really doing enough. As I stated in a previous post, I feel pretty lucky to have made friends with many Muslims from around the world through my graduate program. I have also experienced first hand the types of stereotyping and hate that a lack of education can cause when it comes to understanding another culture/religion.

When I first started to see articles like those mentioned above popping up I began to be curious as well. I remember reading the first one and then turning to my non-Muslim friend and saying, “Hey, do you know what Ramadan is?” That question became my favorite for the rest of the week as I polled friends from all over America with various backgrounds to test their awareness. I had a few people (mostly those with pre-existing interests in religions) that really knew their stuff, but the vast majority of people I talked with had A) Never heard of it. B) Didn’t know what religion it was observed by. or C) Knew it was a Muslim holiday, but did not know what for.

After getting a sense of where others were coming from, I decided these “15 things you blah blah blah.” lists were not hitting close enough. Because I believe we have a propagated and harmful stereotype of Muslims here in America, I saw this lack of knowledge as a huge stumbling block. As our world becomes more and more global, we need to be learning about the people we share it with.

With that in mind, I began to take the missing pieces from what my non-Muslim friends knew about Ramadan and generate questions from them. Obviously, there are more questions to ask about things such as: specific traditions, the Eid celebration, rules on fasting, etc. Just for some background knowledge, you might want to peruse those two articles I cited above before moving on. However, I will start with some basics.

  1. Why is Ramadan celebrated?
  2. When does it occur?
  3. Who participates?

Then, we will go a bit deeper. My whole idea with talking to people about this and asking what they know or what they believe was to establish communication. The more I have learned about celebrating Ramadan . . . the more I have come to love it. It is so much more than fasting. Knowing the individual motivations behind it, the family traditions that make it special, and seeing the selflessness it inspires has been deeply moving. I wanted to share what I have learnt and present something you can look at and understand on a personal level. So, I asked questions like:

  1. What do you wish people knew about Ramadan?
  2. What is your favorite memory from Ramadan?
  3. Is there something(s) that non-Muslims usually get wrong about Ramadan?
  4. What is your favorite/least favorite part of the observance?

I also asked my friends to share pictures they have taken during the Month. (All of the pictures in this post have come from them and have been used with permission. Thanks, everyone! 😀 )

The experiences detailed below come from Muslim men and women from Africa, the Middle East, and America, each willing and wanting to share their story in order to promote understanding in time when it is so desperately needed.

For questions 1-3, the answers were fairly uniform.

  1. Why is it celebrated?

A: Fasting Ramadan is one the five pillars of Islam. Every adult Muslim should abstain from food, drinks and sexual activities in a holy month of Ramadan from dawn to sunset. Muslims are requested to purify their souls by doing good deeds and staying away from bad behavior.

A: It’s the month where Muslims worship Allah and do good things. I feel that by fasting, this makes us think of the poor people and how they live everyday with nothing to eat

  1. When does it occur?

A: Ramadan is based on the lunar calendar (Hijri Calendar); it is not based on the solar calendar. This gives us the opportunity to experience fasting through the four seasons of the year. During one’s lifetime. Ramadan comes in summer when days are hot and longer (like now), in winter when days are cool and shorter, in fall and spring when temperature are moderate.

  1. Who Participates? *Are Non-Muslims Allowed to Participate?

A: Fasting Ramadan is obligatory upon every Muslim who is sane and able and has reached the age of puberty. It is not obligatory on children under the age of puberty, mentally disabled persons, aged persons (who are too old to bear the hardship of fast). Sick people, travelers, women who are in their period of menstruation, pregnant and breast-feeding women are temporally exempted from fasting Ramadan but they must make up the missed days another time, once they are able to fast.

A: Anyone can observe Ramadan, and I would encourage anyone to try fasting for God. It is a rewarding experience.

*A: Yes, It’s a celebration for all.

These first three questions echo a lot of what is said in the Buzzfeed and Huff Post articles I referenced above. If you’re interested in learning more about the traditions and rituals of Ramadan, I would encourage you to do some research online. Exposing yourself to something new and endeavoring to understand it is always a good idea. The next four questions are ones in which I asked for more of a personal answer.

  1. What do you wish non-Muslims knew about Ramadan?

A:  I wish people knew it was more than a religious obligation. Fasting makes your body feel good, and it is a very spiritual experience. I wish more people would try fasting for a day, so they could have a small idea of what many people in this world go through. It is so hard to make it through one day with the knowledge that when the sun goes down, I will have all the water and food I want. It is a very humbling experience and makes you have a stronger desire to help those who don’t know when their next meal will be or don’t have access to clean water.

A:  I wish they knew that we enjoy fasting and we are not struggling. To illustrate, when I’m fasting, it helps me stop thinking of doing bad things, forbidden things, and also it’s good for my health.

A:  People just start thinking about food that how we fast from sunrise to sunset. However, it’s actually not only about food, it’s also about other things such as, donating.

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  1. What is your favorite memory from Ramadan?

A: Sitting with my family at the dinner table together with delicious cuisines.

A: Breaking the fast in family after sunset and sharing meals, visiting friends and family as part of the celebration of Eid.

A: When I was young, I have received many gifts from parents, uncles, aunts, and relative people during the Eid celebration. Also, during Ramadan month, we usually get together, meet each other. So, I would say it’s a very social month.

A: I love the feeling of being part of the community. I love the general feeling that Ramadan gives me. It brings me closer to God.

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  1. Is there something(s) that non-Muslims get wrong about Ramadan?

A: Maybe when people think that it is hard. It is not hard when you get used to it.  

A: I am not really sure. I think they just don’t really fully understand it.

A: They may think that it is a very difficult and tormenting task but it’s the opposite.

A: It is not only about abstaining from food and drinks; it is training for self-restraint and compassion . . . It is also a month of devotion, compassion and generosity. Every day of Ramadan, we are recommended to read one thirtieth of the Quran so that we can read the entire Quran during the thirty days of the month. Every night of Ramadan, we spend from 20 minutes to 2 hours in performing additional prayer. Fasting of Ramadan reminds us that there are people in this world who do not eat and drink for long periods, not because they choose to abstain but because they do not have anything to eat. During Ramadan, we are recommended to share food and give as much as we can from what we have to the less fortunate.

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  1. What is your favorite/least favorite part of the observance?

A: My favorite parts are waking up in the early morning for a lite meal before dawn and breaking fast in family after sunset. I do not think that I have a least favorite.

A: Favorite is the atmospheres of Ramadan in every Muslim country. Least is when I fast far away from my country. It’s difficult.

A: My favorite part is the spiritual aspect of it. I feel happy and close to God during Ramadan. My least favorite part is being so sleepy all the time.

A: The favorite part I would say is that the tarawih prayers (extra prayers), because I have that feeling I’m very close to Allah and ask for everything. 

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There you have it. Hopefully this post was able to teach you a few things about Ramadan, but more importantly, I hope it was able to bridge some information gaps you might have had about the people who celebrate it. Ramadan is about the fasting, yes, but it is also about so much more than that. For the people who wake up before dawn, carry out their days with grace and steadfastness, and end every night in community with one other –it is a chance to draw closer to God in the midst of a busy world.

What do you think about this?