The reality of Ramadan

By Khadija Nakhuda

“Do you just starve yourself for thirty days!?” is a common question Muslims get when they say they’re fasting for Ramadan. You may know someone who is fasting, which likely leaves you with a bunch of questions about why Muslims don’t eat for 16 hours straight and what they do if they can’t eat all day.  Along with these questions come many misconceptions people hold that make “fasting month” sound miserable. But for Muslims it’s the favorite time of year.

Many Muslims are never really taught the true meaning of fasting month and think Ramadan is just intended to make us feel what the poor feel like, which is not the real purpose. Ramadan is a month where you’re supposed to feel more spiritually connected to God and be grateful for all of your blessings, food being a main one. People give up things like watching TV, listening to music, going on social media, and excessive socializing so they can focus on their prayers and gain more of a spiritual connection with God.

Another big misconception about Ramadan is that we can’t eat or drink for a whole month. Ramadan can consist of 30 or 31 days, depending on the moon, since Islam follows the lunar calendar. If we were to not eat for a full 30 days, that would defeat the purpose of Ramadan. The month is not to starve yourself but to think of all the things we are grateful for during the day. Humans can only go 21 days without food and four days without water. Depending on where you live in the world, based on the number on hours of daylight there is, the length of the fast varies from 16 to 18 hours. Muslims start fasting 20 minutes before sunrise and end our fast at sunset.

We normally have five daily prayers that last about 15 minutes each. The first prayer is at sunrise and the last is one hour after sunset.  During Ramadan there is an additional prayer called Tarawih added to the last night prayer at the end of the day. The Quran consists of 30 chapters, and each night in Tarawih they read one chapter. This adds an additional hour and a half to the nightly prayer. Typically the prayer will start at 9:45 p.m. and end at 11:30 p.m. If all the Muslims look tired during Ramadan, this is why.

Ramadan is also a month of giving and kindness. All Muslims are encouraged to donate and give to the poor as much as we can. This could be in many forms such as donating clothes to the Salvation Army or giving a percentage of your earnings to an underprivileged family in another country. Many people will do small acts of kindness like inviting people over for Iftar, the opening fast, or sending food to the local mosque so the men can all open their fast there with fresh food together. You’re discouraged from doing Iftar alone, which brings many families and communities closer.

During the 16 hours, Muslims do not only pray but they spend a good chunk of that time cooking special traditional foods like Biryani (Indian rice).  If you haven’t eaten for the whole day there better be some good food on the table for Iftar. Usually people do not only cook for their families but neighbors and friends as well. By the end of the day you will have 10 dishes that someone sent to your house. The best part — dessert!  You may not normally have dessert every single night but in Ramadan, oh yes you do. People think that after fasting it’s possible to eat a ton, but in reality it’s hard to even finish one plate of food.

After 30 days of this schedule, we have our special celebration called Eid. Eid is a day where you eat a bunch of cake and unhealthy food with your extended family all day. And it gets even better than that. Each family member gives you money as well, so you will definitely be rich by the end of the day.

The month of Ramadan is a special month for all Muslims. We do so much in this month that makes us better spiritually connected to God. Hopefully we take what we learn in Ramadan and implement it in our daily lives after the month is over. Next Ramadan, go to your local mosque and experience an Iftar with your Muslim brothers and sisters. Don’t be afraid to ask us questions.