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‘Not even water?’ Ramadan related questions, answered

I have fasted during every Ramadan in the decade that I have lived in Canada.

And every year, from middle school all the way to university — even in the workplace — my fellow fasting Muslims and I will expect questions from peers about what Ramadan is, why we observe it and whether it’s OK to eat in front of us (the answer is yes!).

I am frustrated at the frequency with which we have to answer these questions, however, I understand that they stem from a lack of information about Islam and Ramadan in North America.

While I cannot overhaul the school curriculum of an entire continent, let me remedy a portion of this gap by answering some frequently asked questions about Ramadan.

What is Ramadan?

Ramadan is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar. It marks a 29- to 30-day period — depending on when the next moon is sighted, signalling the beginning of a new month — in which observing Muslims abstain from eating or drinking between the Fajr prayer (which occurs when dawn breaks) and the Maghrib prayer (which occurs when the sun is fully set).

When is Ramadan this year? And how many hours will you be fasting?

Ramadan will likely begin on April 2 and last until May 2 (give or take a few days depending on the moon sighting).

The number of hours Muslims fast, just like the amount of sleep I get during Ramadan, varies. Muslims in the GTA will begin fasting for nearly 14 hours a day this year and their fast will expand to approximately 16 hours as the day gets longer — an improvement from the 17 to 18 hours during the last two years when Ramadan was observed in May.

Wait, why do the hours change?

Since the Islamic calendar follows the lunar cycle, and 12 months in the lunar cycle consists of 354 days, every year the beginning of Ramadan moves approximately 10 to 11 days back on the Gregorian calendar. The ever changing dates of Ramadan and the time zone one lives in determine the timings for Fajr or Maghrib. These timings, in turn, determine how many hours Muslims fast.

How do you make and break a fast?

Muslims typically have a meal before making their fast called suhoor or sehri. It is possible to fast without suhoor or sehri — I have done this numerous times in favour of sleep. However, it is recommended to eat as one will not be eating or drinking from Fajr (dawn) to Maghrib (dusk). Muslims also have a meal after breaking their fast, called an iftar.

In my household during Ramadan, this practice also becomes a 30-day period when my sister and I argue every day about whose turn it is to make iftar and whose turn it is wash the dishes afterwards. All this while complaining about why our brother — who is conveniently absent every time this debate occurs — doesn’t have to do either.

There is no ruling on how elaborate an iftar should or shouldn’t be. This means this is also a 30-day-period when I convince myself into thinking I can lose weight by preparing a simple iftar, while making every fried food imaginable out of hunger (the table just feels empty if there aren’t any pakoras or mini samosas!).

So you really can’t eat or drink for more than 12 hours?

Nope! Fasting Muslims (Fuslims? Fasters?) can’t smoke, vape or even chew gum.

Not even water?

No, not even water. I feel like fasting Muslims should buy merchandise with this phrase so they can point to it as needed.

OP-RAMADANEXPLAINER Zeahaa Rehman explains Ramadan.

 Uploaded by: Evelyn Kwong

What if you’re severely ill?

If you are severely ill, then you can (obviously) break your fast to save your life. If you are metaphorically dying from thirst or hunger, that’s sort of the point.

Fasting is meant to bring Muslims closer to God by teaching them to resist their worldly impulses so they can focus on religious matters instead, increasing Muslims’ gratitude toward God for the food and other blessings. It encourages Muslims to be more charitable by allowing them to empathize with the less fortunate.

What if you’re really old? Or a young child?

Fasting is obligatory for every Muslim who has reached puberty (which excludes young children), but there are exceptions for people who are ill, elderly, pregnant or menstruating.

Is it OK to eat in front of a Muslim person during their fast?

Yes! Many Muslims have been fasting for several years if not decades at this point. The sight of you eating food will not cause us to lose control and devour everything in sight — that only happens at Muslim weddings (outside of Ramadan).

Isn’t it hard to be around food when you can’t eat?

Sometimes. But I’ll be honest: rarely have I ever seen someone eating something that both looks and smells so delicious — and maybe this is due to years of fasting. What’s harder than not being able to eat is not being able to drink any caffeine in the morning to wake myself up, which is even more necessary during Ramadan since it often disturbs a normal sleeping schedule.

What do you do during a fast?

Ramadan is sort of like a PC Optimum Rewards event at Shoppers: the reward for any good deed you do during it is multiplied tenfold. Since we aren’t ones to pass up on such a good deal, Muslims try to perform as much worship and good deeds as possible.

Aside from volunteering and donating money if we can, we read the Qu’ran, and its translation and detailed explanation if we have time. We do tasbih, the Muslim version of rosary, and pray all five mandatory prayers (Fajr, Dhuhr, Asr, Maghrib, Isha) as well as the tarawih prayer, preferably as part of a congregation in a mosque.

What’s tarawih?

Tarawih is a Ramadan-exclusive extended version of the Isha prayer. Tarawih prayers are optional and can be prayed both at the mosque or at home, though many Muslims prefer the former due to the amplified feeling of community that blossoms with regularly visiting the mosque. Every year I vow that this will be the year I pray tarawih at the mosque regularly, and every year I lapse into a food coma after iftar and don’t recover until my parents have already left.

Even if some Muslims can’t go to the mosque every night, they make a dedicated effort to do so during the last 10 nights of Ramadan.

What’s so special about the last 10 nights?

The Qur’an was revealed to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) on a night called Laylat-al-Qadr, which occurs sometime during the last 10 nights of Ramadan and is believed to be the holiest night of the year. It is widely believed to be the 27th night, but since we don’t know for sure and the reward for praying during these nights is good — like, all-my-sins-forgiven good — Muslims spend a good part of these nights praying and worshipping.

So what happens after Ramadan ends?

The first Eid in the Islamic Calendar: Eid-ul-Fitr.

During Eid, celebrations vary depending on the country and culture. For many Muslims across North America, this means attending the Eid prayer at the mosque. The rest of the day is spent visiting or receiving family, giving each other money and gifts, and enjoying food — and then feeling weird for a bit eating during daytime.

Do you sacrifice a goat during this Eid?

No, the goat Eid — though Muslims can also sacrifice sheep, oxen and camels — is called Eid-ul-Adha and occurs approximately three months after, on the 10th of Du al-Hijjah, the 12th month of the Islamic calendar. Eid-ul-Fitr does not involve any animal sacrifices unless you take into account the animals inadvertently sacrificed for the meat dishes many Muslims serve or eat during Eid.

It’s not Eid unless I eat too many chicken kebabs, what can I say?

Ramadan Mubarak friends!

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