Explaining Ramadhan to People Belonging
to Other Faiths
Courtesy of the Council on American-Islamic
Who Must Fast?
Fasting is compulsory for those who are mentally and physically
fit, past the age of puberty, in a settled situation (not traveling),
and are sure fasting is unlikely to cause real physical or mental
Exemptions from Fasting (some exemptions are optional)
- Children under the age of puberty (Young children are encouraged
to fast as much as they are able.)
- People who are mentally incapacitated or not responsible
for their actions
- The elderly
- The sick
- Travelers who are on journeys of more than about fifty miles
- Pregnant women and nursing mothers
- Women who are menstruating
- Those who are temporarily unable to fast must make up the
missed days at another time or feed the poor.
- Special prayers, called taraweeh, are performed after the
daily nighttime prayer.
- Lailat ul-Qadr ("Night of Power" or "Night
of Destiny") marks the anniversary of the night on which
the Prophet Muhammad first began receiving revelations from God,
through the angel Gabriel. Muslims believe Lailat ul-Qadr is
one of the last odd-numbered nights of Ramadhan.
- Breaking the daily fast with a drink of water and dates
- Reading the entire Quran during Ramadhan
- Social visits are encouraged.
Eid ul-Fitr ("Festival of Fast-Breaking") Prayers
at the End of Ramadhan
- Eid begins with special morning prayers on the first day
of Shawwal, the month following Ramadhan on the Islamic lunar
- It is forbidden to perform an optional fast during Eid because
it is a time for relaxation.
- During Eid Muslims greet each other with the phrase "taqabbalallah
ta'atakum," or "may God accept your deeds" and
"Eid Mubarak" (eed-moo-bar-ak), meaning "blessed
Ramadhan Questions and Answers
Q: How did the fast during Ramadhan become obligatory for
The revelations from God to the Prophet Muhammad that would eventually
be compiled as the Quran began during Ramadhan in the year 610,
but the fast of Ramadhan did not become a religious obligation
for Muslims until the year 624. The obligation to fast is explained
in the second chapter of the Quran: "O
ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed
to those before you, that ye may (learn) self-restraint...Ramadhan
is the (month) in which was sent down the Quran, as a guide to
mankind, also clear (Signs) for guidance and judgment (between
right and wrong). So every one of you who is present (at his
home) during that month should spend it in fasting..."
(Chapter 2, verses 183 and 185)
Q: What do Muslims believe they gain from fasting?
One of the main benefits of Ramadhan are an increased compassion
for those in need of the necessities of life, a sense of self-purification
and reflection and a renewed focus on spirituality. Muslims also
appreciate the feeling of togetherness shared by family and friends
throughout the month. Perhaps the greatest practical benefit
is the yearly lesson in self-restraint and discipline that can
carry forward to other aspects of a Muslim's life such as work
Q: Why does Ramadhan begin on a different day each year?
Because Ramadhan is a lunar month, it begins about eleven days
earlier each year. Throughout a Muslim's lifetime, Ramadhan will
fall both during winter months, when the days are short, and
summer months, when the days are long and the fast is more difficult.
In this way, the difficulty of the fast is evenly distributed
between Muslims living in the northern and southern hemispheres.
Q: What is Lailat ul-Qadr?
Lailat ul-Qadr ("Night of Power") marks the anniversary
of the night on which the Prophet Muhammad first began receiving
revelations from God, through the angel Gabriel. An entire chapter
in the Quran deals with this night: "We
have indeed revealed this (Message) in the Night of Power: and
what will explain to thee what the Night of Power is? The Night
of Power is better than a thousand months. Therein come down
the angels and the Spirit by God's permission, on every errand.
Peace!...This until the rise of morn." (Chapter 97)
Muslims believe Lailat ul-Qadr is one of the last odd-numbered
nights of Ramadhan.
Q: Is it difficult to perform the fast in America?
In many ways, fasting in American society is easier than fasting
in areas where the climate is extremely hot. This year at least,
the number of daylight hours will be less than when Ramadhan
occurs during the spring or summer. In Muslim countries, most
people are observing the fast, so there are fewer temptations
such as luncheon meetings, daytime celebrations and offers of
food from friends. Many American Muslims would prefer a daytime
work shift during Ramadhan so that they may break the fast with
their families and attend evening prayers.
Q: How can non-Muslim co-workers and friends help someone
who is fasting?
Employers, co-workers and teachers can help by understanding
the significance of Ramadhan and by showing a willingness to
make minor allowances for its physical demands. Special consideration
can be given to such things as requests for vacation time, the
need for flexible early morning or evening work schedules and
lighter homework assignments. It is also very important that
Muslim workers and students be given time to attend Eid prayers
at the end of Ramadhan. Eid is as important to Muslims as Christmas
and Yom Kippur are to Christians and Jews. A small token such
as a card (there are Eid cards available from Muslim bookstores)
or baked goods given to a Muslim co-worker during Eid ul-Fitr
would also be greatly appreciated. Hospital workers should be
aware that injections and oral medications might break the fast.
Patients should be given the opportunity to decide whether or
not their condition exempts them from fasting.
Q: Do people normally lose weight during Ramadhan?
Some people do lose weight, but others may not. It is recommended
that meals eaten during Ramadhan be light, but most people can't
resist sampling special sweets and foods associated with Ramadhan.