Ramadan: six questions about the Muslim holy month
The Muslim holy month of Ramadan is now underway. What does it involve for the faithful?
Ramadan, the ninth month of the Muslim year, during which strict fasting is observed in daylight hours, began on 29 June this year. Almost all 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 both during winter months, when the days are short, and summer months, when the days are long and the fast is more difficult.
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 this year's World Cup some Muslim players also made use of the exemption available to travellers.
Do employers 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. Flexi-time is being offered to some Muslims undertaking a daily fast for 30 consecutive days that will involve around 19 hours of abstention from all food and drink from sunrise to sunset. Other companies are allowing Muslims to begin their working day later so they can catch up on sleep after waking up at 3am to eat. The NHS has a section on its website full of tips for staying healthy during Ramadan.
When does it end?
Ramadan ends this year on the evening of 28 July. Every Ramadan culminates with the festival of Eid ul-Fitr, which takes place either 29 or 30 days after the beginning of the month. Eid – as it is usually known – begins with morning prayers and is followed by feasting and celebration among family and friends. Some Muslims also celebrate Eid by wearing new clothes, giving each other gifts and decorating their homes.
Ramadan on Twitter
This year Twitter is providing a series of Ramadan-related tools and services designed to appeal to the world's 1.5 billion Muslims. Anyone tweeting #Ramadan or #Eid in either English or Arabic will see specially designed icons incorporated into their tweet. More practically, Twitter users can find out the hours between which they should refrain from eating: "tweet @AlArabiya with #iftar followed by the name of your city with a # immediately in front (e.g. #Dubai), and the @AlArabiya account will send you the time for #iftar [the end of the daily fast]. This also works for #Imsak [the beginning of the fast]."