By: Habeeba Husain

What is Ramadan? A Muslim’s Guide to the Islamic Holy Month

The month of Ramadan is again upon the Muslim community all around the world by the grace of God. This month is a special time of the year Muslims look forward to, and there are many questions I think will naturally arise among those who do not find this a part of their tradition. Google confirmed this assumption, and below are some commonly searched questions related to the Islamic holy month answered by a Muslim herself.

Why is Ramadan Important?

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic year which follows a lunar calendar as opposed to the solar one many of us are used to. This month brings with it an opportunity for Muslims to reconnect with God through fasting, engaging more in prayer, and spending on the poor.

Ramadan is the month in which Islam’s Holy Book, the Quran, was revealed. Thus, the month is referred to as the Month of the Quran, and many Muslims try to engage more with the text in these days.

Muslims believe that in the month of Ramadan, the gates of Heaven are opened, the gates of Hell are closed and the devils are chained. This means doing good and staying away from bad are supposed to be easier. Many Muslims find themselves able to take part in activities that would have seemed impossible at other times of the year, like fasting and standing in prayer during the late hours of the night. Muslims believe God exponentially rewards during this month, so the more time you spend doing good, the better.

What is Fasting in Ramadan?

Fasting in Ramadan means to abstain from food, drink (yes, water too!), and marital relations from dawn to sunset. This is the most basic level of fasting. Muslims are also encouraged to fast with their ears, eyes, and tongue. This means they need to be careful regarding what they hear, see, and say during the fast. Engaging in vain talk, using bad language, lying, and listening to vulgar speech are just a few examples of things that should be avoided (at all times, but especially in Ramadan).

Why is Ramadan on my Calendar?

Finally, Ramadan is on the mainstream calendars! Just the other day, my sister showed me I can add the Islamic calendar to my iPhone, and now I can easily see the dates of Ramadan along with the Gregorian calendar side by side. I think the real question is, why wasn’t Ramadan on my calendar before?

Is Ramadan Always in May?

Ramadan moves up roughly ten days in the Gregorian calendar every year due to its following the lunar calendar, in which every month is 29 or 30 days. My earliest Ramadan memories (roughly 20 years ago) are actually from the winter!

Is Fasting in Ramadan compulsory?

Yes, fasting is an obligation on every sane male and female Muslim who has reached the age of puberty. This is an obligation outlined in Chapter 2 of the Quran: “O you who believe, the fasts have been enjoined upon you as they were enjoined upon those before you, so that you may be God-fearing” (Q. 2:183).

Exceptions are made for the sick, traveling, menstruating, and pregnant. People who fall into these categories are not required to fast in Ramadan, but they have to make the fasts up at a later date when their state allows.

What is the Purpose of Fasting in Ramadan?

As is mentioned in the Quranic verse quoted in the previous answer, fasting is prescribed so that Muslims may be God-fearing, or in Arabic, attain taqwa. This word is also sometimes translated as God consciousness, or being aware of His presence. This is the greater purpose of life for Muslims, and Ramadan helps Muslims in achieving this. Imam Mikaeel Smith explains how this works:

“Most of us have heard that the point of Ramadan is to teach us the meaning of taqwa. But how exactly does that happen?

There are three things you will notice while fasting.

  1. Subconscious awareness that you have to hold back.
  2. Extreme awareness of time.
  3. Constantly remembering the sweetness of the end of the fast in order to help you get through.

These three things are the essence of a life of taqwa.
If you keep these after fasting you have grown spiritually.”

To further explain these points as I understand them, the subconscious awareness kicks in because things that are normally permissible (food, drink, and marital relations) are prohibited during fasting hours.

Time-Consciousness: Breaking the Fast in Ramadan

The extreme awareness of time is somewhat of a running joke in the Muslim community because every fasting person knows the exact minute sunset occurs in their town during Ramadan because that is when we can eat again! There is often a countdown happening inside our minds until the moment we can break fast. Even after sunset, there is a tight schedule for the special night prayer in Ramadan especially in the summer when the days are long and nights are short. We have to manage time well to be at the mosque in time for the prayer.

The sweetness at the end of the fast, that can speak for itself. It can be a literal sweetness with the date used to break the fast as well as the relief and gratefulness that comes with accomplishing a day of fasting.

I pray this helped answer some questions for those wondering! And to all those who celebrate Ramadan, have a blessed month!

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