Practising Muslims will abstain from eating, drinking and smoking during daylight hours for next 29 or 30 days during the Holy Month.
In addition to its spiritual dimension, this Holy Month is also a time for families to come together by sharing meals after dusk (Iftar) and before dawn (Suhoor).
The Beginning of Ramadan
Ramadan is the Ninth Month in the Islamic calendar and since it is based on the Lunar or movement of the Moon, the commencement of the month and all other Islam observances advance by about ten days every year.
Since the sighting of the Moon is essential, there is usually some debate on this issue. For example, should Muslims follow the sighting of the Moon in their country or should it be based on the sighting in Mecca in Saudi Arabia?
Should the New Moon be seen by the naked eye as Prophet Mohammed did or can it be based on scientific calculations?
Nidha Khan, Editor of ‘Tearaway,’ a magazine published for the youth in New Zealand, said that her family and friends follow the announcements made by the Federation of Islamic Associations New Zealand (FIANZ).
“Therefore, Ramadan may not begin on the same day for Muslims everywhere in the world,” she said during an interview with me recently.
The reason for fasting
Nidha said that Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam, including Zakat (giving charity); performing Hajj (a Pilgrimage to Mecca) at least once in the lifetime by those capable; praying five times a day; believing that there is only one God (Allah); and that Prophet Mohammed is the Messenger Of God.
“Ramadan is considered as the Holiest Month, since it was during this period that God revealed the first verses of the Holy Quran to Prophet Mohammed. During this Month, people fast, do extra prayers, read the Holy Quran, donate more to charity, refrain from negative thoughts and acts like gossiping in order to get closer to God, exercise spiritual discipline and develop further compassion for those who are less fortunate,” she said.
The way to fast
Nidha said that Muslims generally fast from dawn to Sunset and that her family follows the specific timetable published by FIANZ.
“People often wake up before dawn to eat and drink something. This meal is called ‘Sehri’ or ‘Suhoor,’ whereas the food taken while breaking fast at Sunset is called ‘Iftar.’ The rest of the day is standard: at school, work, or home,” she said.
Does everyone have to fast? According to Nidha, if a person is physically and mentally healthy and is beyond the stage of puberty, they are expected to fast.
Sick people, pregnant women, people travelling and those who may come to physical or mental harm by abstaining from food and beverages, are exempt from fasting, she said.
What if a fasting person accidentally eats or drinks?
Nidha said that if someone accidentally eats some food or a sip of beverage, it will be treated as such.
“Such accidents can happen, especially when people are cooking during the early days of Ramadan. They just carry on with fast, as it has not been broken. Their fast doesn’t count when they have intentionally eaten or had a sip of something,” she said.
“Islam is a religion, not a culture and hence the food that people eat varies. My family generally just makes more of the food we love; food from many cultures and most of the time, we initially break the fast with dates, sometimes with figs and nuts,”
Eid Al Fitr
Eid Al Fitr, which marks the end of the Holy Month of Ramadan, is one of the most important festivals in Islam. The way this Eid is celebrated also varies between countries and regions.
Nidha’s family hails from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in Pakistan, where the first day of Eid begins with Prayers and ‘Eid Mubarak’ Greetings.
“At our place, elders usually offer presents to the young, women wear henna and new clothes and all Muslims offer charity in the form of food, money or other things. I personally like to consider Eid Al Fitr as our version of Christmas. It is a day meant to spend time with the loved ones, with lot of good food like Biryani, Kebabs, Samosas, Halwa,” she said.
Nidha said that she sometimes finds it difficult to celebrate Eid Al Fitr because it would clash with a University assignment or test.
“However, with better Time Management and planning, it should be possible to enjoy Eid Al Fitr with not only family but also with friends,” she said.
Renu Sikka is an Auckland based writer, educator and Founder of ‘Our Stories On Plate,’ a non-profit community social enterprise for empowering refugee, migrant and young women through cooking and sharing their cultural food stories. Phone: 027-3536337. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Nidha Khan (Photo Supplied)