Thousands of years ago, one man was chosen by the divinity to be a Prophet of peace and destined to be the founder of a new religion. He was the great Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W) , the man who gave birth to Islam and who was given the sacred knowledge of Quran on a sacred month better known now as Ramadan.
Muslims all over the world will start fasting from today in Pakistan . I have a lot of Non-Muslim friends around who are fascinated, intimated or intrigued by this month as they find it strange that we do not eat or drink for a certain period of time. I often get asked a lot of questions. I am not a scholar or an expert but I am a practicing Muslim, so I will limit the replies to very basics; using layman terms as this post is for those who do not know much about this Islamic obligation. The reason why Muslims fast requires longer explanation so I will answer it in the end but I will start with the most common questions.
Here are the most basic answer to the most basic questions about Ramazan.
- When do you fast?
We follow the Islamic calendar which is a lunar calendar consisting of 12 months. The first Islamic year began in 622AD. The 9th month of Islamic calendar called Ramazan (in Urdu) or Ramadhan (in Arabic) is the month where we fast for 29-30 days. Each year the Islamic calendar moves roughly 10 days ahead of Gregorian calendar. The exact date is dependent on the sighting of moon by region/country for which we have special committees, organizations and councils. The end of fasting month is marked by Eid ul Fitr which is an Islamic festival. Fasting on the days of Eid is strictly forbidden.
- What is the duration of each fast?
Every day from sunrise to sunset.
We all wake up early, much before sunrise, and have something to eat to be prepared for fasting the whole day. This pre dawn time is called ‘Sehri’. People generally focus on wholesome foods so that they can sustain the whole day but there are no restrictions on types of food. As long as it is Halal, what you eat depends on your likes or dislikes. We can also have pizza, pasta or burger if we want. No, there are no specific Islamic foods. We have to stop eating before the sun rises. We do not eat or drink anything until the sun sets. The evening time when we break fast is called ‘Iftaar’/’Iftaari’. We HAVE to break fast at sunset, we cannot go on fasting for any extra rewards. There is no such thing. Muslims like to break fast with dates as this was a practice of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and we follow his actions out of our love for him.
- Can you drink or eat anything at all while fasting?
No. During fasting we cannot eat or drink anything – not even a sip of water. No smoking as well. After breaking fast at sunset we can eat anything that our heart desires (Halal of course) We can eat all night till the sun rises. The restrain is only during the time we are fasting. If we wake up late and miss the sunrise, we have to go on fasting without the pre dawn meal. (Need good multiple alarms :))
- How do you monitor the sunrise and sunset?
We have these Islamic organizations or councils in every country/region that monitor the timings through calculating the movement of moon and sun and release a time table. If you live in a Muslim country, the call for prayers (Azan) will tell you the timings and if you are in a non-Muslim country, you need to follow the timetable or Islamic calendar of that country. There are apps too, now, that you can download and track the time. Very easy!
- What if you are sick?
If you are sick or traveling, you may not fast. If you are taking any medicines that need to be taken during the day, you may not fast as well. There is a list of those who cannot fast due to genuine reasons like pregnancy, breast feeding etc. There are guidelines for them to make up their missed days by doing charity or fasting in later months.
- What if you eat accidentally while fasting?
Nothing happens. If we eat something accidentally even if it is a full meal, we can stop eating as soon as we realize and continue fasting.
- Do you feel hungry?
Of course we do! There is no super natural power that helps us pull through the day. We feel hungry, tired and lethargic but that is what this whole exercise teaches us to control and overcome.
- Do you feel bad/tempted when someone (non-Muslim) eats in front of you?
Personally, I don’t feel bad or tempted. Fasting is as natural to Muslims as can be as we start really young. In fact, I feel good as I use all my will power to control the temptation and I hope that I get extra rewards for that 😉 I think respecting other beliefs is a part of every religion and if someone doesn’t fast, we need to respect their right to eat just like they respect our rights to abstain from eating.
- Why do you fast?
This will be little long so please bear with me.
Fasting is one of the 5 obligatory prayers for Muslims all over the world. In my understanding (and let me repeat again, I am not a scholar) these are very basic reasons why Islam practices fasting:
– Physical Detoxification: It is a forced way to detoxify your body. Islam does not allow anything that is bad for health. Recent studies have proved that fasting initiates important cellular repair processes. As a Muslim, you are obligated to do this exercise but the beauty is that God rewards you abundantly in return.
– Spiritual Detoxification: Fasting is not just about food and water. It also involves more taxing test of avoiding ill speech, being short tempered, getting into arguments, being rude etc. The whole point of the fast is to practice restrain and focus on spiritual improvement.
– Teaches Empathy It is way of Allah to teach every Muslim the difficulties and problems faced by those who do not have enough to eat. It evokes empathy and people are able to relate to the pain of those poor people who are not fortunate enough to have food.
– A Month of Blessings: It is a very holy month for Muslims where every reward of every good deed is multiplied. Many Muslims set their resolutions to improve themselves during this month. They seek forgiveness for their wrong doings and spend more energy in acts of worship and charity to kind of rejuvenate their faith.
Fasting is not as scary or difficult as it sounds and all Muslims really look forward to this month. They congratulate each other as soon as the month starts and thank Allah for giving them another opportunity to seek forgiveness and improve themselves.
I hope this post answered some of your questions! Do leave your thoughts in the comments!