What you should know about Ramadan

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For those of you who don’t already know, the month of Ramadan has started all over the globe. This is the time when Muslims fast during the day, not eating or drinking anything from dawn until sunset. That may sound like a long time, especially this summer when in California, that means no food or water for almost 16 hours, but it’s a lot like the Lent season (for Christians). Giving up chocolate or dessert for a whole month probably sounds like torture to most sane people, but people do it every year.

We at the Clog know people have a lot of questions about Ramadan, so we thought we’d take the time to provide basics answers to some of the major ones.

1. Why does Ramadan occur? 

The Islamic calendar goes by the moon instead of the sun, but it still has 12 months. They just have Arabic names instead of the ones we use every day. Ramadan is actually one of the months in the Islamic lunar calendar — the ninth one to be specific. It happens just like July does every year in the solar calendar, regardless of whether anyone is fasting or not. But it is also the month in which it is believed the Quran was revealed, which makes it a special time for Muslims.

2. Why do lunar phases determine the start and end of Ramadan? 

Like we said, Ramadan is just one of 12 months in the Islamic calendar. Living here in California, most people (Muslims included) go by the solar calendar for everyday use, but when it comes to finding out when to start fasting, Islamic scholars look to see if they can spot the moon. They look again when it comes to figuring out when to stop fasting, which means it’s time for the holiday of Eid! That is the time to celebrate by eating (too much, most of the time), dressing up and spending time with family.

3. Why fast? What are the benefits of fasting? 

Fasting is one of the Five Pillars of Islam, so it’s mandatory for all Muslims. Of course, if you can’t, like if you’re sick, traveling or pregnant, you don’t have to because it could threaten your health. Then you can make it up once you’re able to after Ramadan has passed, or you can provide meals to others fasting for the same number of days that you’ve missed.

Besides it being compulsory, there are things to gain from fasting as well. A major benefit people cite is the learning experience one goes through empathizing with the less fortunate who don’t have food on a daily basis all year round. This can make one more appreciative of what one does have as well as more aware and willing to help those in need. It’s good for you physically, too. Not eating as much as we normally do acts like a sort of detox for our insides, giving them a break from the constant scarfing we normally indulge in. There’s lots of research on how the body is helped by fasting, if you’re interested in finding out the scientific jargon we at the Clog mostly hope to avoid.

4. What does one have to abstain from and why?

Things clearly prohibited during the day are food, drinks and even sex. But the question of what to avoid sometimes get a little tricky outside of those categories, like with gray-area things like gum or cigarettes. Breaking your fast usually happens when you ingest something, so while chewing gum technically isn’t eating, there’s still flavor and sugar and all that artificial goodness to potentially swallow in the process. With smoking, you’re inhaling the smoke. Often, it comes down to a matter of personal opinion and which scholars you ask, but these two are generally in the “no” category. They’ll all tell you fasting isn’t supposed to be about taking shortcuts to make the time pass more easily.

Fasting isn’t just about physical stuff, though. It’s often called the month of self-improvement, so abstaining from being a horrible person is generally commended. Avoiding things like lies, gossip and ill-will is called for. Basically, be a nice person. Giving to charity is important every month, but an extra effort during Ramadan is usually made.

5.  How does it feel to fast? Does it change the way one sees things?

This varies from person to person, everyone being unavoidably human. That being said, most people you talk to will say they enjoy fasting and the feel of the month overall. Aside from the physical cleanse and all that being-a-nice-person business, there’s also spiritual appreciation. On top of being able to appreciate what one has and empathize for those who don’t, there’s more time to think about religion. Not eating for hours on end, it’s hard to forget that religion and God are the reason your lunch time is suddenly free. More time is taken to pray and read about Islam, which generally does alter the way one views things.

6. What is it like to observe Ramadan in Berkeley?

Ramadan in Berkeley is a lot like Ramadan in any other place here in the states. Berkeley Masjid, the local mosque down College Avenue on Derby Street, has food and extra prayer every night. The Islamic Center on Channing Way also has speeches and different programs one can attend at different times during the month. There’s also the Muslim Student Association to get in touch with, loads of  whose members are still in Berkeley, working or taking summer classes. We’ve only just skimmed the surface of Ramadan, and we’re not Islamic experts, so if you still have questions or want to know more, these are good sources to go to.

Happy Ramadan to everyone, whether you’re fasting or not!

Image source: Omar A. under Creative Commons

Contact Erum Khan at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @erumjkhan.