There are five “pillars,” or basic practices, in the Muslim religion, and fasting for the whole month of Ramadan is one of these.
“Ramadan” is just the name of the ninth month of the year in the Islamic calendar, which starts from 622 AD, when Muhammad travelled from Mecca to Medina and founded the first Muslim community.
The Islamic calendar is about ten days shorter than the Gregorian calendar which is used by most of the world. This means that Muslim festivals take place ten days earlier every year. This year the first day of Ramadan was on the 25th April. By 2030 Ramadan will be starting in December. As it carries on travelling through the seasons, in 2047 the beginning of Ramadan will move into June, going by our calendar.
Why does this matter? The fast during Ramadan is strict: no healthy adult is supposed to eat or drink anything at all from dawn to sunset. This includes smoking. For Muslims living in the Middle East, the time of year in which Ramadan falls is not quite as important, since the length of the fast only varies by three hours between summer and winter. In a country like Scotland though, the season makes a big difference to how difficult the fast is. In Inverness, when Ramadan falls in June, the fast should last for just under 20 hours. When Ramadan comes round to December, Muslims in Inverness only need to fast for 9 hours. If you’re not able to fast on any day, or if you break the fast by accident, you should make up the days once Ramadan is over.
Apart from fasting, Muslims also spend the month of Ramadan in prayer; reading the Qur’an; and trying to do good deeds. They believe the Qur’an was first revealed to Muhammad near the end of Ramadan, so many believers will try to read through the whole book during the month. The whole focus of Ramadan is supposed to be on deepening their relationship with God. Extra prayers are offered every night, especially for forgiveness of sin and protection from the fires of hell. Fasting should help develop self-discipline in believers. The hunger they experience while fasting should make believers sympathise more with the poor, and so encourage them to be more generous. There is also an emphasis on strengthening relationships with others and forgiving them.
“Iftar” is the traditional meal Muslims have to end their fast every evening. People gather to celebrate with their families and friends, either at home or at the mosque, so it’s a bit like having a mini-Christmas dinner every night for a month. The first thing most Muslims eat to break their fast is a few dates, which was something Muhammad used to do. The end of the month of Ramadan is marked by the festival of Eid-ul-Fitr, when special prayers are said. People buy new clothes and visit one another, and children are given sweets and gifts. Of course this year, with coronavirus, everything will be very different...