Often the first reaction people have when they hear someone is fasting is 'oh dear, I'm sorry about that'! and 'is it true you can't even drink water?' whilst for Muslims Ramadan is a great blessing from God and they congratulate each other on its arrival. The reason for this is that there are many benefits to fasting which are described below. Also no person ever knows whether they will be alive for the next opportunity to fast.
The Islamic month of Ramadan begins at the sighting of the new moon in the ninth month of the lunar calendar.
Q: Who Must Fast?
Fasting is compulsory for those who are mentally and physically fit, past the age of puberty, in a settled situation (not travelling), and are sure fasting is unlikely to cause real physical or mental injury.
Q: Are there any exemptions from fasting?
Some of these exemptions are optional.
Children under the age of puberty (Young children are encouraged to fast as much as they are able.)
People who are mentally incapacitated or not responsible for their actions
Travellers who are on journeys of more than about fifty miles
Pregnant women and nursing mothers
Women who are menstruating
Those who are temporarily unable to fast must make up the missed days at another time or feed the poor.
Q: Is fasting just about not eating and drinking during daylight hours?
Despite what many may think Ramadan is just not about restraining from food and drink. Muslims must also refrain from things such as verbal abuse, fighting, eavesdropping, backbiting, lying and slander as these acts render the fast as worthless. In essence Muslims must be model human beings during the fast. The act of abstinence is not meant to starve you; it is an act of worship like prayer. It enables people with plenty to empathise with those who have very little in this world.
Q: What do Muslims believe they gain from fasting?
One of the main benefits of Ramadan is an increased compassion for those in need of the necessities of life, a sense of self-purification and reflection and a renewed focus on spirituality. Muslims also appreciate the feeling of togetherness shared by family and friends throughout the month. Perhaps the greatest practical benefit is the yearly lesson in self-restraint and discipline that can carry forward to other aspects of a Muslim's life such as work and education.
Q: Why does Ramadan begin on a different day each year?
Because Ramadan is a lunar month, it begins about eleven days earlier each year. Throughout a Muslim's lifetime, 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. In this way, the difficulty of the fast is evenly distributed between Muslims living in the northern and southern hemispheres.
Q: How can non-Muslim co-workers and friends help someone who is fasting?
Employers, co-workers and teachers can help by understanding the significance of Ramadan and by showing a willingness to make minor allowances for its physical demands. Special consideration can be given to such things as requests for vacation time, the need for flexible early morning or evening work schedules and lighter homework assignments. It is also very important that Muslim workers and students be given time to attend Eid prayers at the end of Ramadan. Eid is as important to Muslims as Christmas and Yom Kippur are to Christians and Jews. A small token such as a card (there are Eid cards available from Muslim bookstores) or baked goods given to a Muslim co-worker during Eid ul-Fitr would also be greatly appreciated. Hospital workers should be aware that injections and oral medications might break the fast. Patients should be given the opportunity to decide whether or not their condition exempts them from fasting.
Q: Do people normally lose weight during Ramadan?
Some people do lose weight, but others may not. It is recommended that meals eaten during Ramadan be light, but most people can't resist sampling special sweets and foods associated with Ramadan.
Q: What happens at the end of Ramadan?
The end of Ramadan is celebrated by the Festival of Eid ul-Fitr ("Festival of Fast-Breaking") and special prayers at the end of Ramadan. Eid begins with special morning prayers on the first day of Shawwal, the month following Ramadan on the Islamic lunar calendar. It is forbidden to perform an optional fast during Eid because it is a time for relaxation. During Eid Muslims greet each other with the phrase "taqabbalallah ta'atakum," or "may God accept your deeds" and "Eid Mubarak" (eed-moo-bar-ak), meaning "blessed Eid."
(Adapted from: Council on American-Islamic Relations)