Siti Rahmanah Mat Daud / Unsplash
On April 12th, 2021, 1.8 million Muslims around the world looked up to the sky, hoping for a new moon. This new moon marked the beginning of the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and the holy month of Ramadan: a social and spiritual high point, a time to gather with friends and family, and a time to focus on fasting, prayer, and scripture.
Every year, nearly a quarter of the world’s population participates in this one-month long religious tradition, whether they are wealthy or poor, in school, working, or retired, devout or doubtful. Yet, for a holy month routinely observed by so much of the world, there are still many misconceptions about Ramadan, even by Muslims.
Sawm, fasting, is the fourth pillar of Islam. Therefore, it is an obligation and commitment upon all able Muslims to fast during the holy month of Ramadan. Many individuals are prohibited from fasting if they are breastfeeding, pregnant, traveling, sick, or are too old or too young for the fast. Fasting is generally expected of young people after they hit puberty, but customs differ in families and countries. There are some people who simply choose to abstain from the practice of fasting, and instead give additional charity, or offer food and hospitality to others.
The dawn-to-dusk ritual began on April 13th, 2021 and lasted until the next new moon on May 14th. In the Northern Hemisphere, that meant a long fasting day. For example, the first day of Ramadan, in my house, began with suhoor at 4:00 a.m. when we woke up and had breakfast to serve as sustenance throughout the day until about 7:35 p.m. when we brokeour fast. That was 15.5 hours with no food or water.
The duration of each fasting period changes as the Earth moves towards the sun, getting longer as we approach summer and shorter as we approach winter. As a result, Ramadan binds you to nature. As one anticipates the excitement and relaxation of iftar, the meal breaking the fast, the arc of the sun in the sky becomes captivating. The rising of the moon each evening is a time to reflect on the limits of your patience and resolve.
The month of Ramadan is also when Muslims give thanks through prayer for what they have achieved and received throughout the year. Muslims gain more appreciation for their lives and get to be more appreciative of their lives especially during the breaking of the fast at dusk.
During Ramadan, various communities have different rituals, such as preparing a special meal or eating iftar with extended family. Many of these rituals, such as exchanging meals and welcoming friends over for iftar, are influenced by Islamic tenets such as generosity. “Before iftar, my family lays a big bedsheet on the floor and sits in a circle where we then eat our food. It’s the one time of year we enjoy our food together as a family. We usually eat fried potatoes and eggplant dipped in hummus. My mom makes a dish with lentils and another with beans and the main dish changes daily,” said Montaha Rahman ’21.
Mosques often host large iftars, particularly for the poor and needy. After iftar, mosques also hold nightly prayers known as Tarawih. However, due to the Coronavirus pandemic, Ramadan has become a less festive time, with all nations, even Muslim ones, taking measures to restrict the virus’s spread by prohibiting or restricting social events and shutting down mosques. “One of the hardest parts of the Coronavirus pandemic has been the loss of community. The mosque was an amazing place for us to gather during Ramadan. Eating, praying, and catching up on life forged years-long connections between the members of the mosque, but all of that was taken away during the Coronavirus pandemic,” said Islamic Foundation of New York, IFNY, board member Farah Pragga.
Muslims are advised and encouraged to share and distribute what they have been blessed with to those who are less fortunate. Charity is essentially food for the soul and also serves as a means of salvation. Due to the countless blessings provided in the holy month of Ramadan, Muslims tend to donate generously in this month and pay Zakat wholeheartedly. “Every year during Ramadan, my siblings and I run the Moind Drive. It is a way for us to give back to our village, a community that was essential to the way we were raised. We normally give money, food, and clothing but due to the Coronavirus pandemic, this year, we were only able to give money,” said Sharif Ahamed. The Moind Drive is run solely by Ahamed and his siblings, and all donations are made from their family members.
The holy month of Ramadan reminds Muslims to check back in with our priorities and faith. The characteristics that we adopt during the time of fasting are the qualities that we should be portraying year-round. COVID-19 may have changed the ways in which we observe Ramadan, but Ramadan’s core values continue to connect our community.
“Before iftar, my family lays a big bedsheet on the floor and sits in a circle where we then eat our food. It’s the one time of year we enjoy our food together as a family. We usually eat fried potatoes and eggplant dipped in hummus. My mom makes a dish with lentils and another with beans and the main dish changes daily,” said Montaha Rahman ’21.