Every year 1.8 billion Muslims across the world, including about 600,000 in Australia and 300,000 in Sydney, observe Ramadan.
But what is it?
Cross-cultural consultant and chair of the Australian Muslim Women’s Centre for Human Rights Tasneem Chopra and Muslim Village editor Ahmed Kilani provide answers.
What is Ramadan?
It’s the name of a month. “Ramadan is essentially the ninth month of the Islamic calendar,” Ms Chopra said.
“The Islamic calendar operates on a lunar cycle — each sighting of the new moon heralds a new month — so slightly different to the Gregorian January to December calendar that we have and as a result that means every year Ramadan falls approximately 11 days earlier than the year prior,” she said.
“There are 12 months. Ramadan is the ninth month — the equivalent of September you could say.”
Mr Kilani said it was a deeply spiritual experience for Muslims all around the world.
“It’s one of the five pillars of Islam — one of the fundamental foundations of the faith.
“Ramadan is a month of fasting,” he said.
“It’s not just about abstaining from food and water but it’s about self-reflection and contemplation and reconnecting with our spiritual side and strengthening our connection with God by doing extra prayers, extra charity and basically I like to call it a 30-day spiritual bootcamp in essence.”
When is Ramadan?
Well, that depends.
“This year it’s due to start on the 6 or 7 of May whereas last year it was starting a bit after mid-May,” Ms Chopra said.
“It’s based on the sighting of the moon.
“Before calendars were invented, time was regulated by moon cycles.
“So the beginning of Ramadan and the end of Ramadan are interesting because you’ll have communities starting and ending it at different times of the month.”
Who observes Ramadan?
If you’re a Muslim who has reached the age of puberty and your health facilitates it — Ramadan is a requirement.
“It’s one of the pillars of Islam,” Ms Chopra said.
“There are five pillars of Islam.
“There’s the declaration of faith, there’s the performing of prayers, there’s fasting in the month of Ramadan, there’s providing charity, which is a compulsory amount of money to those in need in the community, then there’s the hajj, the pilgrimage, which you try to do once in your life if you’re physically able.”
Who is exempt from Ramadan?
“A lot of people are exempt in fact the exempt list is far more than those who can fast,” Ms Chopra said.
“So if you are a child, if you’re under the age of puberty, if you are having your period, if you are pregnant, if you are breastfeeding, if you’re elderly, if you require to take oral medications for health, if you’re travelling — they’re all exemptions.”
Why do Muslims observe Ramadan?
Muslims believe Ramadan was the month that the Koran was revealed to Prophet Mohammed.
“People would make an extra effort in this month because it’s associated with the holy text of Islam to read more of it and to try and distance themselves a bit more from the world,” Ms Chopra said.
Can you drink water?
“I’m thinking about bringing out a t-shirt saying, ‘Not even water’ because it’s a common question that all Muslims get asked,” Mr Kilani laughed.
“Basically, you can’t put any fluids or any food or any medication into your body while you’re fasting.
“We’re very blessed in Australia because at the moment we’re fasting during winter time really,” he said.
“That will change in a few years’ time when we flip into daylight saving again, but other countries they’re fasting 21-22 hours a day whereas we’re fasting about 12 hours a day.”
What does a typical day look like for a Muslim during Ramadan?
Muslims fast from dawn to sunset.
“You’re looking at around 5am — that’s the last cut-off for you to have any food or drink,” Mr Kilani said.
“A lot of families get up and have a big meal together at that time — maybe at 4:30am and then do their first prayer of the day which comes in at dawn and then people might go off to work,” he said.
“And then basically the day is per normal and at sunset is when we break our fast.”
What should non-Muslims know about Ramadan?
According to Ms Chopra, non-Muslims shouldn’t act differently.
“It’s not necessary to treat your Muslim co-workers as a leper — that you can’t eat in front of them because they’ll be offended, that you can’t talk about food because they’ll be offended. People don’t get offended by that,” she said.
What happens at the end of the month when Ramadan ends?
“You can imagine after a month of fasting and extra worship it’s a huge celebration,” Mr Kilani said.
“We call it Eid.
“Usually families will get together and have a big meal on that day.
“It’s an amazing day when we see people of all walks of life coming to the mosque, up to 20,000 people, coming together to celebrate and spend the day together with family. It’s a very special day.”