The month of Ramadan, the holiest of months in the Islamic faith where the divine Allah (SWT) commanded the Archangel Jibraeel to descend from the skies to the final messenger of the faith, Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) with the first verses of the Holy Quraan.
This blessed month emphasizes the importance of increasing spiritual devotion and sense of community, particularly in the last ten days.
In this month the Qur’an was revealed, and Muslims use this opportunity to connect to the holy book, starting and completing during the entire month. The word Ramadan is derived from the Arabic word “Ramdaa”, which means intense scorching heat and dryness. It is said that Ramadan is so called so because it burns away sins.
Who is eligible to fast? Every mentally and physically fit Muslim who is past the age of puberty, who observes the month, must fast from dawn till dusk. Dawn is indicated by Al Fajr prayer (morning prayer) and dusk – which is indicated by Al Maghrib prayer (prayer at sunset) – every day, for the entire month.
Children, the elderly, those sick, the insane, travellers and pregnant or nursing mothers are exempt from fasting. However they are required to feed at least one poor person a day during Ramadan for the fasts they missed.
Women who have their monthly period are also exempted, but only on those days that they are menstruating, and should resume fasting when the menses stops. They also have to make up for the days they missed by fasting for a day for each missed day any time before the next Ramadan.
This year, Ramadan falls in July, and is expected to have the longest days in almost 30 years for Muslims in the Northern Hemisphere and the shortest days for Muslims in the Southern Hemisphere.
To stay healthy while fasting this Ramadan, drink a lot of water during non-fasting hours, especially during Suhour (pre-dawn meal). Also avoid smoking, high sugar and high fat foods and focus on healthy food.
One should break the fast gently, not by eating a lot. Traditionally, one should break the fast with a few dates and water, as dates are an immediate source of energy and potassium.
In general, one should reduce salt and salty food intake, stop consuming caffeine and sugary drinks during the summer, whether one is fasting or not.
Also, it is better if one schedules outdoor activities early in the morning or in the evening, as to avoid any complications from the sun and heat.
Fasting is one of the five pillars (duties) of Islam. Fasting the month of Ramadan was made obligatory on the second year of Al Hijra. Al Hijra means “the migration”, which is when the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) and his followers migrated from Makkah, his home town, to Madinah to escape his tribe’s harm and torture. Fasting, in general, is meant to humble oneself and help increase one’s moral discipline as well as serve as a reminder of the plight of those less fortunate.
Ramadan’s fast is not just a food fast; fasters should abstain from food, drinks and sexual activities. Any negative behaviour such as lying, using foul or insulting language and backbiting is forbidden in general but would be a great sin in Ramadan.
Fasting also has health benefits by helping the body cleanse itself, as it detoxifies the body and speeds up the healing process as the energy usually used for digestion is diverted towards metabolism and the immune system.
Ramadan is the ninth month of the lunar calendar. The lunar calendar has 12 months like the solar calendar, but it is 11 days shorter than the solar calendar. The 11-day difference causes the starting day of Ramadan to move every year and so it can occur in a different season each year.
Many scholars believe that Islam and its duties following a lunar calendar is a form of justice and mercy from god, as the months move across the different seasons.
This rotation leads to duties, such as fasting and Haj falling in different seasons and during better weather and so making it easier.
For example if the Islamic calendar was a solar one, and Ramadan always fell in July, people in hot countries would have a much harder time with the hot weather and long days than people who have winter in July like New Zealand.