By Aishah Ali and Sukaina Ladak
The Islamic month of Ramadan is a time when Muslims across the globe fast during daylight hours. This annual observation, lasting 29/30 days, is regarded as a blessed and rewarding time. Ramadan falls in July again this year meaning people fasting in the northern hemisphere will experience longer fasting hours or others intense heat.
It is the ninth month on the Islamic calendar. This calendar is a lunar calendar, operating on the cycles of the moon, making each year roughly 11 days shorter than the solar (Gregorian) calendar year (354 days as opposed to 365 days). This means the month of Ramadan shifts about 11 days earlier every year on the solar calendar.
This month is of great importance to Muslims; it is an obligation prescribed in the Qur’an: ‘God has prescribed fasting for you, as was prescribed for those before you so that you may attain God- consciousness’ (2:183). Those who are travelling, not fit and able such as the elderly, children, sick, are not required to fast.
Ramadan is a time for devotion to God, and inner reflection, and Muslims try to achieve this through performing extra acts of worship, giving as much charity as possible, reflect on the Qur’an, and try to improve their behavioural conduct.
Inshira Faizah, 20, Coventry, explains that Ramadan “is a month of worship in which we can refer to ourselves and amend our ways. Ramadan is what helps us become better Muslims and better people. I plan on spending it by improving myself, breaking bad habits, and becoming a better contributor to humanity through charity and most importantly remembering Allah through constant worship.”
Amina Khan, 21, student, Birmingham, adds that Ramadan “teaches us important qualities such as self-discipline, sacrifice, tolerance, and devotion. Acts of worship combined with good acts such as trying to be more forgiving, and thinking about those less fortunate helps us to purify ourselves from within and improves our character. It’s a month long yearly exercise for our body and soul.”
2.7 million British Muslims fasting will go without food or water for approximately 18 hours, as daylight hours in the summer months are considerably longer than in the winter.
Explaining how she will try to cope with this, Summiyah Aktar, 28, Birmingham, said: “No food or water from dawn to sunset is a physical challenge. But Ramadan is not just limited to that, it is a spiritually exercise as well worship. The month is full of blessing, and mercy from God, and by understanding this, the hunger is not as difficult.”
For Hiba Chaudhry, 19, King’s College Biomed student, “the whole point of fasting is to feel how the poor people feel all year round and essentially especially with these Summer 18 hour fasts you actually begin to feel their pain and suffering. I guess it builds some empathy towards them and makes me want to give more to charity. Here in London it isn’t really hyped up but I was in Saudi during Ramadan and that was probably my favourite experience. The whole place is buzzing with people doing adhkar (pl dhikr); and it’s so peaceful – like you get that feeling of unity when people are offering you so much food and there’s no lack and in essence you literally feel Islam, Islam meaning peace. You actually feel at peace. I really want to go back now.”
Aliyah Ladak, 23, said about Ramadan, “I like how different people take away different things from it. Like for one person it could be about thinking about those less fortunate than us. And for another something as simple as wanting to become healthier through the month.”
Zarina Rashid, 64, said she “dreads” the long fasts but “once you start then you feel good. We go to masjid every day and the feeling to break the fast with all makes you feel good. My most memorable experience of fasting was when I was in Pakistan at my hostel waking up at 4 and eating parathas made by the cook.”
Zeynab, 20, said she looks at Ramadan “as a rehab centre. The whole year I may have been doing things which aren’t right, trying to change myself, trying to find who I am truly, trying to get into a better connection with the Divine. In Ramadan, as we know Satan is locked up securely, and our whole routine is changed. We go to the mosque more often, there are no daytime meals and we feel more connected via du’as and lectures.”
She added that “the air is just different during Ramadan, it’s like pure magic. We feel like doing better, we frown at sinning; we come together as a whole community and feel more spiritual. I still remember last Ramadan changed me a lot. I left a lot of habits that I had always planned on leaving but was procrastinating, and I was forced to, during Ramadan, to leave them as fasting is not just about starving oneself, but about avoiding sins and improving oneself. I look forward to it. I need to be recharged and re-energized, and that is exactly what this awesome month does.”
Odan said the reason why fasting was prescribed was for “taqwa (piety)” and “submission to Allah. Taqwa means giving up haram things, and in general terms, includes both doing what is commanded and abstaining from what is forbidden. If a person does that for a whole month, the rest of the year will go well, but unfortunately in the case of many of those who fast, there is no difference between a day when they fast and a day when they do not.”
Hina Mahdi, 21, said Ramadan is “the embodiment of true acts of self-piety, mercy and bounties of God. It encompasses an important aspect of being a Muslim through pious practices. Ramadan not only involves abstaining from food and drink but involves concentrating on forming a spiritual connection with God. That spiritually uplifts one’s soul rather than with the concerns of worldly matters. During this time, one strives in achieving utmost perfection in serving God through self-reflection, god-consciousness and spiritual refinement giving one the chance to become reborn through the forgiveness of sins.”
Zainab Gulamali, 18, said Ramadan is “a beautiful month in which all individuals are given a chance for change, by spiritually cleansing the soul. It is also a chance to get closer to God,” whilst Sophia Mahmood, 19, said she welcomes Ramadan “because the whole family does it together. So we break it together at the end of the day rather than having dinner at different times. And obviously what you gain is we’re encouraged to read the Qur’an; it helps our religiousness. I think fasting’s fun.”