The Dummies’ Guide to understanding what Muslims do during Ramadan

There’s going to be no escaping it. Within the next 29 or 30 days, you are going to cross paths with someone you know or have to work with who’s Muslim and observing the month-long Islamic fast. You are also – through no fault of yours – act awkwardly around them because you suddenly find that you do not know what’s acceptable and what’s not.

That needs not be the case. Fully armed with all the answers you need about Ramadan and what it means for Muslims, you should not have to worry. From what Ramadan really means to acceptable modes of behaviour – if there’s any such thing – around fasting Muslims, we have got you covered in this Dummies’ Guide.

What exactly is Ramadan?

A month. No, it’s not a holiday. It’s a month. That’s what it literally is, the ninth of the 12 months of the lunar calendar which Muslims follow for religious purposes. In this ninth month, which also happens to be reckoned with as the holiest Islamic month, Muslims are enjoined by the Qur’an (as well as the teaching of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW)) to fast.

O you who believe, fasting is prescribed to you, as it was prescribed to those before you, that you may learn self restraint “
Surah Baqarah; Verse 183 of the Qur’an.

During this month, Muslims all over the world fast.

How does this fasting work?

Muslims fast by abstaining from food, drinks, and sexual activities from dusk to dawn. Although lawfully married couples may hold hands and be affectionate during the fast, they fast by abstaining from sexual activities from dawn to dusk, daily for the duration of the month. In the period between dawn and dusk, all Muslims must also refrain from all prohibited acts such as trash talking, envy, anger, lewdness etc, while engaging in increased acts of worship like observing all five daily prayers at their appointed time, being more charitable with wealth, kindness and remembrance of God at all times.

The purpose is so that they leave the month with a stronger connection to God.

While Muslims may fast (usually voluntarily) at other times during the year, the Ramadan fast is compulsory for every Muslim who has come of age and is physically fit to do so. As such children, travellers, the sick, old, and depending on their strenght and resolve, pregnant women too, are exempt from fasting the month.

While fasting, nothing except the abstinence changes for the fasting Muslim. However, they may be found to be more reserved, kind or compassionate – all are symptoms of a person trying to double up on their good deeds.

So do not worry, they are not trying to avoid you or be annoyingly “holier-than-thou”.

For the next month though, you may want to avoid involving them in office gossips, trash-talking and if you are trying to be super kind, you can give them a few extra minutes at intervals so they can observe Salaah (anyone of the five daily prayers) on time. But really, the fast is about them and their ability to practice self-restraint and discipline, so you do not owe them anything.

As mentioned earlier, in 29 or 30 days (now 28 or 29 days), the fast will be over and Muslims will celebrate on the first day of the next Islamic month (Shawaal).

This celebration is called Eid-l-Fitr. It literally means the celebration to break the fast. It’s not the one where they kill the ram or cow (so please refrain from asking for that). This one is a more solemn celebration marked by prayers and a full day where no Muslim should fast. They’ll also be giving out compulsory charity (think of it as tax) on the days leading up to the Eid to the less privileged in the community or bodies that can pass on charities that have been delivered to them.


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