What is Ramadan? Explaining Ramadan to Non-Muslims

By Adham

Most people know that Ramadan is a time of fasting for Muslims around the world. But what do most non-Muslims know beyond that? Not much, it turns out! Here, we explain some of the important practices and beliefs around this holy month.


Muslim fasting is a total abstention from eating, drinking, and sexual relations starting from dawn to dusk and repeated for 29 or 30 days of the month of Ramadan. (There can only be 29 or 30 days in a given lunar month). Avoiding anger and immoral behaviour as well as showing compassion are all part of the requirements of the fasting faithful.

Allah the Almighty mentioned in the Quran (Holy Book of the Muslims) that the fasting is prescribed for the believers, so that they may acquire self-control and God-consciousness. Therefore, the purpose of the fasting is to develop God-consciousness, self-control, and health improvement by reducing or eliminating impurities from the body, and to become aware of the trouble of the poor, sick, and hungry.

It is an obligation for every adult and healthy Muslim to fast during the month of Ramadan. The month of Ramadan is the month in which the Holy Quran was sent down from 7th level of heaven to the 1st level, from where it was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, in parts over a period of 23 years. It is a very joyous months for the Muslims of the world in which they fast and pray during the day and read Quran while making additional prayers during the night.

There is a special night called the Night of Power, which is mentioned in the Quran, as a night of mercy, light and worship. It is this night which is equivalent to more than 1,000 months of worship. During this night, as the Quran was sent to the 1st level of heaven, Allah Almighty sent down special angels during this night to pray for the mercy of Allah and salvation for the believers.

Ramadan, the 9th lunar month, begins after sighting the crescent, and not the birth of the new moon. Muslims get up very early to take their sahoor, a pre-dawn meal before starting their fast.

After Ramadan:

After the month of fasting is complete, Muslims all over the world celebrate their holiday of Eid-ul-Fitr. It is a true thanksgiving to a believer after having the opportunity to obey the God by completing the month of fast. It is celebrated on the 1st day of 10th lunar month, Shawwal. The holiday begins with Muslims putting on their best (preferably new) clothes and going to on of the Eid congregations which are very large gatherings of Muslim men, women and children across the world.

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Common questions asked about Ramadan:

“You can still drink water right?”

No, eating or drinking is not permitted while fasting. Fasting in Islam forbids you from ingesting anything.

“Fasting for 30 days, how can you survive that?”

It’s not a complete fast through day and night. Muslims are required to fast only when the sun is up!

“Is Ramadan about understanding people who have to deal with hunger and thirst on a regular basis?”

This is only a minor part of it, as the main goal is actually spiritual growth. If a Muslim is just going thirsty, hungry, and tired without avoiding cursing, smoking, fighting, arguing, gossiping, indulging in sexual activity or acting cranky, their fast turns useless and is a waste of time.

“Isn’t fasting unhealthy?”

In contrary to what most people think, fasting is actually good for your health.  According to Live Science, “The most common eating pattern in modern societies of three meals daily, plus snacks, is abnormal from the perspective of human evolution.”

And scientists have found that “intermittent fasting helps the body to rejuvenate and repair, thereby promoting overall health.”

“What about sick people or children, do they still have to fast?”

The answer is no. Only adult Muslims of good health may fast. Children (Under 13) and elderly people are not required to fast since it may be detrimental to their growth or health, respectively.

Pregnant and breastfeeding mothers have the option not to fast since their bodies are already being taxed. Women who are menstruating do not fast since; again, they are already dealing with demands on their bodies.

People who have chronic health problems that fasting would exacerbate are not allowed to fast. People who come down with a serious, acute illness during the month are not allowed to fast. And people who are travelling have the option to fast or not to fast.

The purpose of fasting should not be to harm oneself. And if there is likelihood that fasting will do serious harm, that Muslim is exempt from it. But don’t congratulate Muslims who cannot fast because many feel intense grief over not being able to participate in the fast of Ramadan.

“Doesn’t Ramadan start in June?”

Ramadan actually moves back approximately 10 days every year. This movement of the month is because every year Ramadan starts when the new moon is sighted for the ninth month in the Islamic calendar. Each month is 29-30 days long depending on the lunar cycle. This means that each year the month of Ramadan moves up 10 days in relation to the Gregorian calendar. The Ramadan in 2002 was in November, in 2016 it was in June and this year in 2018 it started in May. Because of the moving month, everyone gets to experience Ramadan in different seasons of the year. There is a kind of equality that a moving month affords because no one part of the world has to always fast in the long, hot days of summer months while another gets to fast in the shorter and cooler days of the fall and winter months.

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