What is Ramadan? Why do Muslims fast? We’ve got all the answers to the questions you’ve always wanted to ask.
We’re only weeks away from Ramadan (17 May), which marks the start of a month of fasting for millions of Muslims all around the world. We may have it great here in multicultural Singapore, with different races and ethnicities growing up, working and living together in a buzzy melting pot. But there’s still plenty to be learned about each other’s cultural festivals. Case in point: Year after year, I still receive the same questions about fasting. We’ll answer them all in this beginner’s guide to Ramadan.
Let’s start with the basics
What is Ramadan?
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and believed to be the holiest month of the year. It’s a month of fasting, which is one of the five pillars of Islam (others include daily prayer and charity).
Any able-bodied Muslim is obligated to fast, with the exceptions of the elderly, pregnant, menstruating or ill.
Why do Muslims fast?
Muslims fast as an act of devotion and dedication to Allah. It’s a commitment to the purification of the soul – fasting teaches self-restraint from earthly pleasures and discipline of the body and mind. It also teaches you empathy for the less fortunate; in this month, charity and giving back also takes centrestage.
How do Muslims fast?
In brief, it’s a dawn-to-dusk fast. We begin the day with a pre-dawn meal (referred to as sahur in Malay, and suhoor in Arabic) before we begin our fast.
It’s not just food or drink we abstain from – the idea of self-restraint from earthly pleasures include not smoking, engaging in sexual activity and refraining from gossip, anger, greed or lust.
At sunset, we break our fast over iftar. Traditionally, the best way to do this is over dates, followed by a prayer before the main meal begins.
How do I support my Muslim friends during Ramadan?
We’ve had this reaction all our lives – non-Muslim friends tell us they’re self-conscious about eating in front us, and attempt to hide their food and drinks. Go ahead and go about your usual routine. Just try not to offer us anything.
If you see us not fasting, try not to probe either. There could be a number of reasons why we’re not, including illness, pregnancy or menstruation. Faith is a deeply personal thing, and not something everyone is comfortable discussing about.
Don’t mind us if we hibernate. Schedule dinner meetups when you can, instead of brunch or lunch. As you can imagine, fasting takes up a lot of energy and we might be a little ‘off’ during the day.
It’s okay to be curious, but do be as respectful as you can. We’d recommend doing just a little research before asking us easily Google-able questions. And before you even ask, yes, it’s true: not even water.
Also, we might stand at a distance from you during the day. Not being able to drink water can leave us quite dehydrated so we’ll be quite self-conscious of our dry breath.
Also referred to as tarawih, it refers to optional nightly prayers. These are prayed in at least eight, 12 or 20 rakat, which refers to units of prayers.
Feasts with family and friends
Ramadan is always a time for strengthening bonds and reconnecting with loved ones. Coming home to buka puasa(break fast in Malay) and pray with your family takes top priority. Friends make plans way in advance to meet and feast.
All month long, you’ll find Ramadan bazaars across the islands of endless stalls offering up Malay, Middle Eastern and contemporary, Instagram-driven hipster eats (which we have a strong opinion about – head here to read what we really thought about last year’s Geylang market).
What happens at the end of Ramadan?
Hari Raya Puasa (also referred to as Aidilfitri or Eid) is celebrated to mark the end of Ramadan and is not, despite what it commonly and mistakenly believed, a Muslim new year. It’s a month of forgiveness and food. On the morning of Hari Raya Puasa, Muslims wake early for prayers, before celebrations kick off. Dressed in our traditional and glamourous best, we visit families and friends throughout the month, seeking forgiveness from elders. Working adults give packets of money to the young or elderly, and feasting happens. A lot.
What does Ramadan mean to you? We got some from our team to spill what Ramadan means to them.
“I got married in early 2017, and it’s been cool starting our own traditions and must-have iftar meals”
– Delfina Utomo
“It’s a time of detox, not just for your body but for your soul too.”
– Cam Khalid
“It’s a time for family to come together to feast together. It also means I can finally buy delicious dendeng (thinly sliced dried meat).”
– Hubab Hood
“I always look forward to coming home to a feast with my family. It’s also a time of contemplation and doing more for the less fortunate.”
– Nafeesa Saini