It’s the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, and Muslims have been fasting throughout it for more than 14 centuries. And yet non-Muslims are always full of questions. Here are the answers to some of the most common:
So you don’t eat at all?
No, we only fast during daylight hours – from dawn until sundown. This year in the UK, that means over 18 hours of nil by mouth – we can’t eat, drink, smoke, or have sex during those hours.
Don’t you get hungry?
Yes, we get hungry and thirsty, but that’s the point. We eat Sehri, a pre-dawn meal, and at sunset we break the fast (called Iftar), usually with a date and a glass of water.
A date with whom?
A date with introspection. Ramadan is an opportunity to focus on the soul rather than the body, so we get through the day trying to be more spiritual, as well as seeking to improve our behaviour. We empathise with those in need and give thanks for having food at the end of the day, when millions of people don’t have that luxury.
Surely kids don’t have that kind of self-control?
Children don’t have to fast, but they can if they really want to. Although once puberty hits, there is no escape. Also exempt are the elderly, the sick, and anyone who has a medical condition.
Isn’t it a bit hot to fast in July?
Muslims follow the lunar calendar, so every year it moves back 11 days. The last time Ramadan was in July was 1980. Go figure.
So it all started on Wednesday?
Well, not quite. Every year there is a bit of chaos, because of the different ways of measuring. Generally speaking, Muslims follow the traditional method of sighting the new moon with the naked eye and we look to Saudi Arabia to declare it. Then there is the local sighting issue – do we follow the moon being sighted in the UK or do we follow the opinion that the first Muslim to see the new moon, no matter where, means the rest of the world can start Ramadan? Or there is the argument for astronomical calculations rather than naked-eye sightings.
I’m confused. Do you celebrate it every time you see the moon?
No, that would be ridiculous. But it is confusing. Especially when it comes to Eid.
And who is this Eid?
Eid is basically a rave-up at the end of Ramadan, when families and friends get together to feast after fasting. It starts with a prayer at the mosque and then we eat as if we haven’t eaten in a month.