You’re not the only one who had these questions, but is too embarrassed to ask.

Seven things you wanted to know about Ramzan but were reluctant to ask Image for representation/PTI
Features Religion Sunday, May 28, 2017 - 13:51

Ramzan, which marks the month long period of fasting for millions of Muslims around the world, began on Friday. And if you’re a person who’s always wondered why so many people in the world would subject themselves to a month-long exercise of voluntary thirst and hunger, fret not. You’re not the only one who had these questions, but is too afraid to ask.

We’ve compiled a list of common questions and queries you may have about Ramzan. And hopefully, this will quench your curiosity and maybe even appreciate the practice better!

1. What is Ramzan?

Mohammad Hassan Khalil, Director of the Muslim Studies Program at Michigan State University, writes for The Conversation:

Ramzan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, and lasts either 29 or 30 days, depending on when the new crescent moon is (or should be) visible. The Arabic term Ramzan connotes intense heat. It seems that in pre-Islamic Arabia, Ramzan was the name of a scorching hot summer month. In the Islamic calendar, however, the timing of Ramzan varies from year to year. This year Ramzan will begin around May 27; next year it will begin around May 16. (An Islamic year is roughly 11 days shorter than a Gregorian year.)”

2. Why do Muslims fast during Ramzan?

Fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam. Fasting during the month of Islam, or ‘Sawm’, which is the fourth pillar before ‘Hajj’ or the holy pilgrimage to Mecca.

These five pillars provide the framework for a Muslim’s life and “and weaves their everyday activities and their beliefs into a single cloth of religious devotion”.

An average day of fasting begins early, when they have a large meal called ‘suhoor’ before dawn. They do not eat or drink (not even water) throughout the day and break the fast with a meal called ‘iftar’ after sundown.

Among the other reasons Muslims fast during Ramzan is to develop compassion for the poor.

According to a Quora thread, where many Muslims answer the question “What is it like for a Muslim to fast for Ramzan?”, the overwhelming sentiment that they feel is appreciation for the food on their table.  

“It's a blessing to be one of those people who can afford the needs and wants. So are all of you reading this now. Doesn't matter if you believe in God or not, Ramzan teach,” reads one person’s response. “Being hungry or thirsty for a large portion of the day makes you realize how blessed you are. You feel grateful for the life that the Almighty bestowed upon you,” writes another. 

Other reasons for fasting include learning patience, breaking bad habits, not taking their privilege for granted and fasting as a means to get closer to god.

3. Can Muslims be exempt from fasting during Ramzan under any conditions?

According to Professor Khalil’s piece in The Conversation, Muslims who are “physically limited” - like the elderly, those who are ill, young children, or pregnant or nursing women - are exempt from the fasting obligation during Ramzan. The same goes if one is traveling at the time. Others who are wealthy and are not able to fast are supposed to provide meals for the poor as an alternative.

But for those who can fast, and haven’t been able to during Ramzan, should make up for it by fasting later on other days.                  

4. Can menstruating women still fast during Ramzan?

According to multiple sources, women are exempt from fasting on the days they are menstruating. They are also not allowed to touch the Quran or recite the prayers on those days.

Speaking to Antonia Blumberg for Huffpost, Qamar, a Muslim woman, said that she didn’t know of a line in the Quran which said that menstruating women cannot pray or fast. And while many women do not mind the break from fasting when they are bleeding, a Muslim researcher told Huffpost, women say that it does have a stigma.

5. What happens if a Muslim accidentally eats or drinks while fasting?

When we’re in a group of friends and a plate of chips or glass of iced tea is being passed around, it’s easy to absent-mindedly take a piece or sip. But what if that person is a Muslim fasting during Ramzan? Does that invalidate their fast altogether?

According to Islam Today, if the breaking of the fast is a genuine mistake, it is pardoned. “Allah says: “There is no blame on you for what you do by mistake, but only for what your hearts have deliberately resolved upon.” [Sûrah al-Ahzâb: 5]” reads a quotation on the forum.

Further, it quotes the Prophet as saying that if a person forgets they are fasting and eats or drinks, “it is merely that Allah has given him food and drink.”

6. So do Muslims lose a lot of weight during Ramzan?

Fasting all day sounds like a clear recipe to reduce weight, only it’s not. Two meals placed too far apart with a day of no dietary intake in between is actually a recipe which can mess with your metabolism. Add to this the fact that these two meals tend to be quite sizeable and may be fried or sugary. So, many people who practice fasting during Ramzan may end up putting on weight.

However, this is not to say that Ramzan fasting cannot be done in a healthy way. Avoiding overeating, chewing properly, cooking healthy, eating low fat dairy projects, and having plenty of non-sugary liquids during the non-fasting hours is a good way to do so.

7. How do Muslims celebrate the end of Ramzan?

“The end of Ramzan marks the beginning of one of two major Islamic holidays Eid al-Fitr, the “festival of the breaking of the fast.” On this day, many Muslims attend a religious service, visit relatives and friends, and exchange gifts,” writes Professor Khalil.

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