Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

Ramadan Mubarak! If you ask your friend out for lunch this month and they say no, don't take it personally.

They may be celebrating the month where Muslims fast from dawn to dusk.

Here's what you need to know about Ramadan 2021 — including some basic do's and don'ts.

When Is Ramadan?

As part of the Islamic lunar calendar, Ramadan's dates vary according to the lunar cycle. In 2021, Ramadan begins on the evening of Monday, April 12 and ends at sundown on Tuesday, May 11. The observance of the new crescent moon marks the official start of Ramadan.

Ramadan lasts 29 or 30 days, depending on the year. The holiday of Eid al-Fitr marks the end of Ramadan and the beginning of the next lunar month.

Origin of Ramadan

Ramadan is a month full of social festivities such as communal dinners, group prayers, and other gatherings.(Pixabay: Mohamed Hassan)
Ramadan is a month full of social festivities such as communal dinners, group prayers, and other gatherings.(Pixabay: Mohamed Hassan)

Ramadan, one of the months in the Islamic calendar, was also part of ancient Arabs’ calendars. The naming of Ramadan stems from the Arabic root “ar-ramad,” which means scorching heat. Muslims believe that in A.D. 610, the angel Gabriel appeared to Prophet Muhammad and revealed to him the Quran, the Islamic holy book. That revelation, Laylat Al Qadar—or the “Night of Power”—is believed to have occurred during Ramadan. Muslims fast during that month as a way to commemorate the revelation of the Quran.

The Quran consists of 114 chapters and is taken to be the direct words of God, or Allah. The hadith, or accounts by the companions of Prophet Muhammad’s thoughts and deeds, supplement the Quran. Together they form the religious texts of Islam.

Why Is Ramadan Important for The Muslim Community

Fasting

Even though Ramadan involves abstaining from food and water, it is a social festival that centres around coming together for a feast.(Supplied)
Even though Ramadan involves abstaining from food and water, it is a social festival that centres around coming together for a feast.(Supplied)

Fasting during the month of Ramadan, called the sawm, is considered one of the five pillars of Islam that shape a Muslim's life. The Arabic word for fasting means "to refrain," not only from food and drink but also from evil actions, thoughts, or words.

The physical fast takes place on a daily basis from sunrise to sunset. Before dawn, those observing Ramadan will gather for a pre-fast meal called the suhoor; at dusk, the fast will be broken with a meal called the iftar. Both meals may be communal, but the iftar is an especially social affair when extended families gather to eat and mosques welcome the needy with food.

The month of observance

During Ramadan, Muslims aim to grow spiritually and build stronger relationships with Allah. They do this by praying and reciting the Quran, making their actions intentional and selfless, and abstaining from gossiping, lying, and fighting.

Throughout the month Muslims fast, also refraining from drinking and sexual intercourse between sunrise and sunset. Fasting is obligatory for all Muslims, except for the ill, pregnant, traveling, elderly, or menstruating. Days missed fasting can be made up throughout the rest of the year, either all at once or one day here and there.

Meals are opportunities for Muslims to gather with others in the community and break their fast together. Pre-dawn breakfast, or suhoor, usually occurs at 4:00 a.m. before the first prayer of the day, fajr. The evening meal, iftar, can begin once the sunset prayer, Maghreb, is finished—normally around 7:30. Since the Prophet Mohammad broke his fast with dates and a glass of water, Muslims eat dates at both suhoor and iftar. A staple of the Middle East, dates are rich in nutrients, easy to digest, and provide the body with sugar after a long day of fasting.

After the last day of Ramadan, Muslims celebrate its ending with Eid al-Fitr—the “festival of breaking the fast”—which begins with communal prayers at daybreak. During these three days of festivities, participants gather to pray, eat, exchange gifts, and pay their respects to deceased relatives. Some cities host carnivals and large prayer gatherings, too.

This year, the coronavirus pandemic is disrupting Ramadan observances across the world, closing mosques and upending plans for traditional suhoor and iftar gatherings. But while celebrations might be subdued this year, the spirit of this centuries-old tradition will remain the same for many as a time for piety and self-reflection.

Charity

The practice of charity or zakat is another of Islam's five pillars. Muslims are encouraged to give regularly as part of their faith (zakat), or they may make a sadaqah, an additional charitable gift. During Ramadan, some Muslims choose to make particularly generous sadaqahs as a demonstration of their faithfulness.

Eid Al-Fitr

Photo: National Geographic
Photo: National Geographic

The end of Ramadan is marked by the Islamic holy day of Eid Al-Fitr, sometimes just called Eid. Eid begins on the first day of the Islamic lunar month of Shawwal, and the celebration may last as long as three days.

According to custom, observant Muslims must rise before dawn and begin the day with a special prayer called the Salatul Fajr. After that, they must brush their teeth, shower, and put on their best clothes and perfume or cologne. It's traditional to greet passersby by saying "Eid Mubarak" ("Blessed Eid") or "Eid Sain" ("Happy Eid"). As with Ramadan, acts of charity are encouraged during Eid, as is the recitation of special prayers at a mosque.

Ramadan do’s and don’ts guide

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

There’s a short time left until Ramadan, here are some tips on the Do’s and Don’ts and how to get the best out of the holy month.

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, and it is during this month that the holy Quran was revealed and Muslims observe fasting from sunrise to sunset for 30 days.

Muslims usually wake up before sunrise and eat a meal called suhoor, and then fast the entire day until sunset - the fast is broken by a meal called iftar. Repeat for the entire month. During Ramadan one doesn’t only abstain from food and drink, but more importantly from bad habits and behaviours. The hunger and thirst one feels is supposed to develop patience, self-restraint and gratitude. The overall significance of Ramadan is to get closer to God.

DO embrace the community spirit and wish a blessed Ramadan to Muslim friends and colleagues.

DON’T eat, chew, drink or smoke in public during the hours of daylight, even if you’re not Muslim.

DO accept food and drink when offered during Iftar, it is a sign of respect and friendliness.

DO stay calm. Work might be a little less productive and people who are fasting might be a little tired, but be patient with everyone this month.

DON’T play loud music as it may offend those who are fasting. Playing music through your headphones is allowed as long as it is not audible to the people around you.

DON’T dress inappropriately or wear tight fitting clothes – modesty is key.

DO try fasting for a day. It’s a good way to understand your own needs and self-control as well as a way to understand what your Muslim friends and colleagues are going through this month.

DON’T worry if all these rules feel like a lot. Ramadan is a peaceful and serene time that lasts a month so try and enjoy it while it’s here.

Can I eat in front of someone fasting?

You can eat and drink in front of someone fasting for Ramadan during the day.

While they will probably turn down your lunch invite, you can have dinner together when they break their fast.

Remember, Ramadan is all about coming together, so inviting a person to break their fast with you is a large part of the celebration.

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