For Muslims the world over – no matter the school of thought they follow – Ramadan is the holiest month of all. It is a common misconception that Ramadan entails nothing more than fasting from sunrise to sunset, but this is simply not true. There is much to be said and done during this most significant time of the year, and for those who are new to the Muslim community or who are friends of the community, it can seem confusing.
If you’re struggling to understand Ramadan, what it is, why it’s observed and who observes it, keep reading as we provide you with all the information about Ramadan you’ll need.
The first step to understanding Ramadan is to know exactly what it is. It is the holiest month for Muslims everywhere and is considered the most sacred and spiritual time of the year. Ramadan is observed in order to honour the fourth pillar of Islam known as Sawm.
As Ramadan is undertaken in order to honour the fourth pillar, it’s important to know some of the key sawm facts.
What is Sawm?
Sawm is the fourth pillar of Islam. This means it is one of the five core principles all Muslims must live their lives by, and it is one of the main driving forces behind Ramadan.
What does Sawm mean?
Sawm translates in English as ‘to fast’.
Why is Sawm observed?
Muslims observe Sawm in order to become more compassionate towards those less fortunate than them. By not eating, they become more grateful for all Allah (SWT) has blessed them with, and this teaches them not to take anything for granted. Sawm is also observed in order to teach Muslims perseverance, dedication and self-control, as well as to cleanse their minds and bodies and bring them closer to Allah (SWT) through prayer.
Ramadan translates into English as ‘burning heat’ or ‘scorching heat’ which is an ode to when it was first observed. Given that there are now over one billion Muslims living all around the world, some Muslims will not experience Ramadan in a hot climate like the Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) and the first Muslims did.
One of the most confusing fact(s) about Ramadan is knowing when it is. Ramadan is always observed for the entirety of the ninth month of the Islamic year, but it has no fixed date. This is because the Islamic calendar is based on the lunar cycle, and this means it shifts by 10/11 days every year (in the Gregorian calendar) in line with the cycle of the moon.
As mentioned, Ramadan always falls on the ninth month of the lunar year, but if that month changes date every year, how do Muslims know when the ninth month is? It’s quite simple in principle; a new lunar month is signalled by a new moon (or the very first visible sliver of a crescent moon). Muslims simply wait for the ninth new moon to be visible as this is confirmation that it is time to fast. This seems simple, but cloud coverage can hinder moon visibility and, depending on which method Muslims use to track the sighting of the moon, could impact when Ramadan starts.
There are three main ways Muslims can track the moon to signal the start of Ramadan:
It is said that the Angel Gabriel commenced the month of revelation to the Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) on the ninth lunar cycle of the year, hence why the ninth month of the year holds such significance to Muslims. There is no better time to practice gratitude and compassion, to cleanse your being and to recite the Qur’an and strengthen your bond with Allah (SWT) than at the time He first revealed his teachings and wisdom to humans.
It is thought that the last 10 nights of Ramadan hold special power, particularly Laylat al-Qadr (meaning the Night of Power) as it is believed this is the exact day the Angel Gabriel first addressed the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Some Muslims believe this is the 27th night of the month, but others believe it could be any of the odd nights in the final 10 days. It is said that giving charity at this time of the year brings with it exceptional rewards equal to those received by doing 1,000 months of good deeds. For this reason, it is customary for all eligible Muslims to give their Zakat payments at this time.
If you want to reap the rewards of donating at this time of the year, please give your Zakat to Muslim Aid and we will use it to help those most in need.
Many people will know Ramadan is the time for fasting from sunrise to sunset, and whilst that is correct, one of the lesser-known Ramadan facts is that there are other activities which must be abstained from, including: gossiping, cussing, lying, arguing and sexual activity.
Along with abstaining from food and impure thoughts, Ramadan is also a time for reciting the Qur’an, praying frequently and working to become a better Muslim.
Zakat al-Fitrana is a compulsory payment that every Muslim must make during Ramadan, before the commencement of the first Eid prayers. All Muslims with food in excess of their needs, regardless of age, are permitted to pay. If a child cannot pay, the head of their household should pay for them. Zakat al-Fitr is not to be confused with Zakat, although the two are often paid at the same time during Ramadan.
The final Ramadan custom is Sadaqah which is when a Muslim does any number of good deeds and expects nothing in return. Ramadan is very much a time for giving and selfless acts which is why many do Sadaqah during it. Sadaqah can include anything, from helping someone cross the street and volunteering at a soup kitchen, to picking up litter or providing aid to an elderly person.
It is not permitted for Muslims to eat between sunrise and sunset; however, they can eat before the sun has risen and after it has set. The meal before sunrise is called Suhoor and is typically reminiscent of a traditional breakfast, and the meal after sunset is called Iftar and resembles a traditional dinner. High energy, slow-releasing foods are eaten, and water aplenty is consumed in order for Muslims to stay hydrated.
Ramadan is based on Sawm which is one of the core pillars of Islam which means every Muslim should aim to do it, but it’s not possible for everyone. You must partake in Ramadan if you are:
This means not everyone will be able to partake, and as such, those who are exempt from fasting include:
If a Muslim is exempt from fasting, they can make up the days they miss later in the year. If they are unable to make up the days, they must pay Fidya which is a charitable donation charged by the day that is used to pay for food for someone who is hungry and does not have any. Fidya is usually less than £5 a day, but the price fluctuates year on year depending on the price of staple foods. For example, if a Muslim was unable to fast for seven days due to travelling and Fidya is set at £5, they must pay £5 for each of those days, meaning they must pay £35 to a Fidya charity.
You may check Fidya rates closer to the time of Ramadan. If a Muslim is to pay Fidya, they should do it before their missed days of fasting, but it must be done during Ramadan regardless.
There are two scenarios for breaking the fast: intentional and unintentional. If a Muslim forgets they are fasting and has a drink or eats something between sunrise and sunset by mistake, their fast is still valid and they need not worry, as long as they continue to fast as soon as they realise what they have done.
If a Muslim intentionally breaks the Ramadan fast, they must fast for an additional 60 continuous days. If they cannot fast for 60 days, they must pay Kaffarah. Kaffarah is similar to Fidya in the sense that it is a charitable donation used to feed the hungry, but Kaffarah is considerably higher than the amount of Fidya. If a Muslim intentionally breaks their fast for seven days and Fidya is set at £5, they must pay a total of £300 (the value of feeding 60 people) for every day. Since Kaffarah is based on Fidya and the Fidya amount changes year on year, Kaffarah also changes year on year.
A Muslim may pay Fidya and Kaffarah to Muslim Aid. We will use it to feed the needy and hungry.
The end of Ramadan is signalled by the sighting of the 10th new moon of the lunar year (called Shawwal in Islam). Much like with the sighting of the ninth new moon, the sighting of the 10th new moon can be declared by looking to Mecca, a local mosque or lunar predictions.
When the 10th new moon is spotted, Eid ul-Fitr celebrations begin. Muslims gather together for prayers, a feast, exchange gifts and to celebrate their month of self-control and restraint. If a Muslim has days of fasting to make up, they cannot do it until Eid is over.
If you have any questions about Ramadan, Laylat al-Qadr, Zakat, Zakat al-Fitr, Fidya, Kaffarah or Eid ul-Fitr, please contact us and we will be happy to provide guidance.