Ramadan is the ninth month on the Islamic lunar calendar, lasting 29 or 30 days depending on the sighting of the moon. Ramadan is a very special month to Muslims because it was in the month of Ramadan that Allah ﷻ revealed the Qur’an to the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. Allah ﷻ puts fasting, also called sawm/saum in Arabic, during Ramadan an obligation upon every able Muslim. Fasting during Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam, the others being Zakat / Zakah (alms), hajj (pilgrimage), Shahadah (testimony to faith), and Salah (prayer). Fasting is an act of worship to Allah ﷻ and a way to obtain piety. Allah ﷻ says:
ا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا كُتِبَ عَلَيْكُمُ الصِّيَامُ كَمَا كُتِبَ عَلَى الَّذِينَ مِن قَبْلِكُمْ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَتَّقُونَ(2) Al-Baqarah, ayah 183
O you who believe! Observing As-Saum (the fasting) is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may become Al-Muttaqun.Qur’an chapter 2, verse 183
Al-Muttaqun being those who are monotheistic and God-conscious. During Ramadan, every day, there is a time window which is when fasting should be observed. This time window lasts from the start of the fajr prayer (a prayer done in the early morning) until the start of the maghrib prayer (a prayer done around twilight time). Due to the nature of this time window, on shorter days the fasting is shorter and on the longer days the fasting is naturally longer.
Because Ramadan is a lunar month, it is not a fixed date on the Gregorian calendar. A lunar year consists of only 354 days, 8 hours, 48 minutes, 34 seconds. Since this is the case, on the Gregorian calendar, Ramadan occurs ten to eleven days earlier than it did the last solar year. This results in something really interesting. Ramadan can occur in the high heat and long days of summer, or it can occur during the short days of winter. But since Ramadan shifts so slowly from season to season some people might experience all their days of Ramadan in summer while someone else at some other point in time might experience all of their days of Ramadan in winter.
How early in age do muslims start fasting? In Islam, children are not obliged to fast until they have reached adolescence. This is implied in a hadith (a recording regarding what the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said or did) where the Prophet ﷺ said:
The pens have been lifted from three: from one who has lost his mind until he comes back to his senses, from one who is sleeping until he wakes up, and from a child until he reaches the age of adolescence.Narrated by Abu Dawood, 4399; classed as saheeh by al-Albaani in Saheeh Abi Dawood.
The pens being the pens with which are recorded man’s deeds. So children are excused from obligatory duties until they reach adolescence, duties such as fasting during Ramadan. However, some children who are able to fast yet are not obliged to still do fast. For these children, over time, fasting becomes extremely easy. People who are on a journey can choose to fast, however, they are not obliged to fast while traveling and must make up missed days on another day because traveling can make fasting difficult. But fasting while traveling today is very easy because with modern modes of transportation humans do very little movement of their own when trying to get from place to place while in a vehicle like an airplane.
Descpite this, traveling is still considered a hardship and you have the option to not fast if you chose to (and not getting any sin) because by using this olaksica, this is also considered worship. The ruling of making up for missed days outside of Ramadan also extends to individuals who are temporarily ill like someone suffering from a cold and can not fast a particular day or days. As for pregnant women, if they can fast without causing harm to them and their baby then they should do so. But if fasting would cause harm to a pregnant woman or her baby then she is obliged to not fast. They then make up for missed days. Nevertheless, everyone’s intention (niyyah) should be to fast the current day and they can still break the fast in cases of above mentioned exceptions.
What do muslims do exactly when they’re fasting? Unsurprisingly, muslims abstain from food and drink when fasting but they also abstain from desires like intercourse (while fasting during the day time). Smoking in Islam is forbidden, but it is especially disallowed because it is also considered to break your fast. So, during every Ramadan, smokers quit from sunrise till sunset so as not to break their fast. Also, since fasting is a method to obtain self-discipline and control, Muslims typically put extra effort to avoid vain and idle talk, backbiting, insulting, and lying. All of these are haraam (sin) anyway but especially in Ramadan where the bad deeds get multiplied as well as the good one’s, which is not the case outside Ramadan. Muslims also do more acts of worship than they would do outside of Ramadan because extra emphasis is put on getting nearer to Allah ﷻ and worshiping Him during this time. They may offer more prayers and spend more time in prayer. The Qur’an has 30 juz (a unit consisting of some 20 pages) and because Ramadan lasts 29 to 30 days Muslims will try to read a juz per day. That way, they usually finish reading the whole Qur’an by the end of the month of Ramadan.
Some people read even more and they finish the whole Qur’an within a week and some even within 3 days but reading the entire Qur’an in less than 3 days is not recommended.
During Ramadan there is a prayer often performed in congregations at night called taraweeh. Over the course of Ramadan the imam(the one who leads the prayer) usually recites the whole Qur’an in taraweeh (one juz per night). Taraweeh is optional, not obligatory, but because it is such a great act of worship many muslims try not to skip it. A hadith states that:
Whoever prays qiyaam in Ramadaan out of faith and in the hope of reward, his previous sins will be forgiven.Al-Bukhaari and Muslim narrated from Abu Hurayrah that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said this.
Qiyaam al-Layl are the night prayers, a category under which taraweeh falls into. Another hadith says:
Whoever prays qiyaam with the imam until he finishes, will be recorded as having spent the whole night in prayer.Al-Tirmidhi narrated that Abu Dharr said: The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said this.
Now you can imagine many muslims being eager to pray taraweeh, despite it being long.
Muslims make niyyah, or intention, that they will fast for none other than Allah ﷻ Himself and for his pleasure. Before the fasting begins Muslims will wake very early in the morning and prepare a pre-fast meal, called suhoor. This meal is usually a light one to keep you energized and going throughout the day. They make sure to drink lots of water and stay hydrated. This way they won’t have a desire or a desire that strong to drink later in the day. When the fajr prayer starts most people will pray and then return to sleep. When they wake up, they will continue with their daily life. Some may discontinue hobbies like sports and workout because they want to keep their energy.
For some people fasting is so easy they still workout and play sports and still don’t have to eat or drink. As the night approaches, a meal is prepared for when the fast ends, called iftaar. Iftaar can be enjoyed by a family or a group of people. Some masjid may host iftaar and can have many people coming to visit. People eagerly wait for the sunset and when the maghrib prayer rolls around, Muslims break their fast with dates and water (as the sunnah of the prophet Muhammad savs was). After that they go pray and then finally sit down to eat the meal they’ve prepared. It is very common for families to host social gatherings at their homes and break fast in a group. Then, at night, Muslims will head to a masjid and offer taraweeh in congregation.
When you’re fasting the month of Ramadan, knowing that over a billion Muslims around the world are doing the same, you feel like you are part of a community, all of its members performing the same act. There is a sense of unity. Poor and rich, black and white, male and female, old and young, new Muslim and old Muslim, from this background or that background, all fast the month of Ramadan. All seek the pleasure of their Lord and His forgiveness. No other institution in the history of man has gotten hundreds of millions of people to give up food and drink for several hours a day, every day, for the entire month, every year so. It is a powerful feeling.
After the month of Ramadan is over, Muslims celebrate a holiday called Eid Al-Fitr. On the day after the last day of Ramadan, Muslims wake early to pray, brush their teeth, and dress in their best clothing. Then they head to a masjid, when the weather is bad, or preferably outside to where they listen to a sermon after they performed the Eid prayer (opposite order from jumua where the khutba comes before the prayer). After they finish, people exchange handshakes, greetings, and best wishes.
They’ll say ‘Eid Mubarak’ which means ‘Blessed Eid.’ People celebrate the end of a month of fasting with gatherings, feasts, and gifts. Some will host large parties and gatherings. Others will go to restaurants to eat good food they enjoy. Parents will buy toys, clothing, games, and other gifts for their children. Another common practice is that people will see family members they don’t get to visit often. Also, fasting on this day is not permissible. Muslims thank Allah ﷻ for giving them life and the strength to go through the fasting month and they ask Him to give them a long enough life to make it to the next one.