VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Imagine not being able to eat any food or drink anything from sunrise to sunset for a month. Do you think you could do it?
For practicing Muslims worldwide, that reality has set in for another year as the holy month of Ramadan begins.
Why do Muslims fast?
It’s considered one of the five pillars of Islam and it lasts about 30 days. During that time, anyone observing Ramadan can’t eat or drink anything between sunrise and sunset. That includes water, coffee, tea — even a Tic Tac or a cough lozenge.
You can use toothpaste to brush your teeth (it’s a common misconception that you can’t), as long as you don’t consume it.
Most people get up before dawn and then abstain until they break their fast when the sun goes down — something that’s call “iftaar.”
The act of fasting is aimed at teaching self-restraint, while providing time for spiritual contemplation and counting your blessings.
Ramadan can be very difficult for many people as during the spring and summer months. The fasts can be as long as 16 to 17 hours, if not longer.
Although it’s required of all practicing Muslims, there are exceptions. The very young, the very old, as well as anyone who has health issues, is pregnant or breastfeeding doesn’t have to do it. Women who have their period (during that week) also don’t do it. Fasts that are missed need to be made up later.
The focus isn’t just on food. It’s also stressed that Muslims clean up their behaviour, which means things like dressing modestly, no swearing, no smoking, no listening to your favourite music, and no sex during fasting hours.
Importance of charity
This is another pillar of Islam and is underscored during Ramadan. Giving back to those less fortunate is considered incredibly important and anyone not fasting is encouraged to help feed the hungry or provide food or money for meals for those who are keeping a fast.
At the end of Ramadan — which isn’t until sometime in early June this year — what’s called “Zakat al-Fitr” is given by those who observed their fasts.
The money collected is typically given to those in need and to help feed the hungry. Most people are expected to pay somewhere between $10 to $15 per person in their household, but of course, they can always give more.
It’s possible someone you know at work will be observing the month and there are a couple of things you can do to help ease things for them.
First off, if they’re not fasting on a certain day or at all, don’t ask them about it. It’s private.
Understand they may be a little tired because iftaar and evening prayers can run late. Some will also stay late at the mosque for special prayers known as “Taraweeh.”
Muslims also don’t want sympathy for fasting — and don’t be offended if your friend or colleague cancels lunch plans.
And lastly — you can eat. Don’t feel the need to hide during your lunch hour or apologize for taking treats to the office.
Marking the end of Ramadan
After about 30 days of not eating or drinking from sunrise to sunset, Muslims around the world will mark the end Ramadan with Eid-ul-Fitr.
Feel free to wish your Muslim friends “Eid Mubarak,” which is loosely translated into “Happy Eid.”
The day typically involves a trip to the mosque for prayers, followed by a feast shared with family and friends. Some people also choose to wear new clothes. Presents or money are given to children.
Muslims can’t tell you what day exactly Eid will fall on this year because it’s based on the lunar calendar, which means there may be a contrast of when it’s here in B.C. as opposed to a country in the Middle East, for example.
You can listen to all of Sonia Aslam’s Ramadan features here.