Ramadan 2015: when does it end and tips for fasting
The Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins this week. What does it involve for the faithful?
Ramadan, the ninth month of the Muslim year, during which strict fasting is observed in daylight hours, begins on 18 June this year and ends on the evening of 17 July. Many Muslims try to give up bad habits during Ramadan and some will pray more or read the Koran.
Does Ramadan always start on the same day?
No. Because Ramadan is a lunar month, it begins about 11 days earlier each year. During a Muslim's life, Ramadan will fall during winter months, when the days are short, and summer months, when the days are long and the fast is more difficult - especially for those living in northern Europe.
This can pose problems for Muslims in the UK, where believers can be fasting for more than six hours longer than those in Mecca. And, in some of Europe's northern-most towns, the sun sets for just two hours or less, leaving a fleetingly brief window for observant Muslims to break their fast. In the Swedish town of Kiruna, The Independent reports, the sun will not set until August and Muslims have been advised to fast "between the times that the sun was last clearly seen to rise and fall".
Some scholars have suggested that the Muslim diaspora use Mecca time to measure their fast, but the idea remains controversial, with many believers still opting to face fast days as long as 19 hours.
Why is the month so significant?
Principally because it is the month that Allah revealed the Koran to the last Prophet, Muhammad.
Why do Muslims fast during Ramadan?
The practice is intended to help teach Muslims "self-discipline, self-restraint and generosity", the BBC says. It's common to have one meal (known as the suhoor) just before sunrise and another (known as the iftar) directly after sunset. Writing in The Independent, Arifa Akbar says when she was a Muslim child growing up in the UK non-Muslims used to warn her that fasting was unhealthy. Now, she writes, "fasting seems to have been reinvented as the ancients saw it – a way of giving the body a rest, cleansing both physically and spiritually, and a way of sharpening our collective sense of self-restraint".
Who is exempt from fasting?
Those who are not required to fast during Ramadan are non-Muslims, young children, the sick or those with mental illnesses, travellers, the elderly and women who are menstruating, pregnant, breast-feeding or have recently had a baby, says Al Jazeera. In previous years, Olympic athletes have been considered exempt from the fast, and at the 2014 World Cup some Muslim footballers also made use of the exemption available to travellers.
Are there any tips for fasting during Ramadan?
The NHS has a section on its website full of tips for staying healthy during Ramadan. It suggests eating at least two meals a day – the pre-dawn suhoor meal and iftar at dusk – and including complex carbohydrates that help release energy slowly. This includes foods such as wheat, oats, lentils and basmati rice.
High-fat and high-sugar foods are not recommended. The NHS suggests baked samosas, boiled dumplings, grilled meat and milk-based puddings as good alternatives to less-healthy fried food.
Dr Razeen Mahroof, an anaesthetist from Oxford, says: "Ramadan isn't always thought of as being an opportunity to lose weight because the spiritual aspect is emphasised more generally than the health aspect. However, it's a great chance to get the physical benefits as well." Nevertheless, Mahroof says a balanced diet is needed, with the right proportion of carbs, fat and protein, in order to see any benefits.
Google has also released a web portal that includes timetables for sunset and sunrise, as well as videos, maps for local restaurants and useful Ramadan apps.
Do employers have to make concessions during Ramadan?
Akbar says Ramadan is "marked far more openly in Britain" than it used to be and some employers have begun to adapt. While it is illegal for employers to have policies that particularly disadvantage religious workers, sensitivity to employees' religious needs also makes good business sense, says Acas. This includes making provisions for flexible working and time off during religious festivals. Some companies are allowing Muslims to begin their working day later so they can catch up on sleep after waking up early to eat, or to begin their working day earlier so there is time to take a nap before the fast is broken in the evening. Some companies might be willing to consider a later start or earlier finish in exchange for a shorter lunch break.
Working Muslim, an organisation helping Muslims to balance their work and faith responsibilities, recommends that employees let their colleagues and managers know that they are fasting. Instead of drinking coffee or tea, it suggests that workers take a short break every 40 to 50 minutes, splash water on their face and walk outside at lunchtime to raise oxygen levels. It also recommends planning ahead to increase the chances of taking time off from work during Ramadan, taking power naps where possible and reserving the morning hours for the most intellectually demanding work.
When does it end?
This year Ramadan will finish on the evening of July 17. The month of fasting culminates with the festival of Eid ul-Fitr, which takes place either 29 or 20 days after the beginning of the month. The date is determined by the first confirmed sighting of the new moon and there is often controversy about when it starts, with different countries observing it on different days. The festivities begin with early morning prayers and breakfast, followed by a day of feasting with friends and family. Many Muslims don their best clothes to celebrate eating their first daylight meal in a month and give thanks to Allah for giving them strength and self-control. Gifts are often exchanged and homes are decorated to mark one of the most important days in the Muslim calendar. But it is also a time of reflection, forgiveness and altruism. "We should remember that Eid is really a time to remember Allah and to feel the joy that comes to us once we meet obligations toward Him," says Mission Islam. "If you participate in the fasting, the celebration becomes even more meaningful!"