Everything You Need to Know About Ramadan

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Tariq Mahmood, Toronto, Canada

You have probably heard of Ramadan, the month in which Muslims around the world fast from sunrise to sunset. But there’s more to Ramadan than just avoiding food and drink. Read on for our primer on the fundamentals of this spiritual month.

What is Ramadan?

Ramadan is the ninth month in the Islamic lunar calendar, which also has twelve months. According to Muslims, God appointed this month for Muslims to fast. Muslims are taught to count their blessings, to consider those who are less fortunate, and to give charity. They’re taught to feel hunger, and what it’s like not to have food available. Above all, Muslims are taught to try to build a connection with God.

There’s something special for a Muslim about praying while fasting; in that moment when thirst hits you and you pray to God, you feel profoundly weak and understand your own humanity.

That’s why Ramadan is really about improving ourselves on all levels: building a deeper connection with God, better fulfilling the rights of our fellow human beings, and reforming our own morals and actions to become better people.

What Does the Word ‘Ramadan’ Mean?

The word Ramadan is derived from the Arabic word ramd, which means intensely hot or burning. Some speculate it’s because a Muslim feels hot due to thirst, while others surmise that it refers to the burning of sins. Some also say this burning refers to the love that one feels for God during Ramadan. All of these are true in their own ways.1

What Can’t You Do During a Fast?

From dawn to dusk, Muslims cannot:

1. Eat food.

2. Drink water.

3. Have sexual relations.

Muslims are also taught to control their anger. The Holy Prophet Muhammad (sa) said: ‘Fasting is a shield; when one of you is fasting, he should neither behave in an obscene manner nor foolishly. If a man fights or abuses him, he should say: I am fasting, I am fasting.’2

Why Is Ramadan Important to Muslims?

The purpose of Ramadan is to connect humankind to their Lord. Allah the Almighty says, ‘The fast is for Me. So, I will reward (the fasting person) for it and the reward of good deeds is multiplied ten times.’3

It’s a special time of the year when Muslims are taught to devote all attention to God. Most Muslims will describe it as a ‘spiritual high’ where they feel profoundly connected to God.

Is Fasting Mandatory?

Ramadan is mandatory upon every Muslim who is eligible to keep the fast, as the Holy Qur’an says, ‘O ye who believe! fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may become righteous.’4

Although there is no physical punishment if someone decides not to fast, it is a sin in the eyes of God Almighty, so Muslims believe skipping a fast unnecessarily will incur the displeasure of God.

Are Children Supposed to Fast?

Because children are still growing, they should absolutely not fast. When they become teenagers, depending on their health and maturity, they can start keeping a few fasts. When they reach the age of 18, they should consider it mandatory for themselves to fast during the entire month of Ramadan.

There was an incident in Pakistan in which a child was forced to fast, his parents locking him in a room. When they unlocked the room at dusk, the child had already passed away. Such barbarism is why children should be allowed to develop fully, and only fast when they are strong. This is what Islam teaches.

When Is It Fine to Skip a Fast?

One should not fast if:

1. They are sick. This includes taking medicine. For example, diabetics cannot fast if they have to take insulin. This also includes if someone has to receive any sort of injection or vaccine.

2. They are on a journey.5

3. They are taking exams, because this takes a strong physical toll on the body. If one can tolerate the extra stress, they are permitted to fast. Otherwise, if they are unable to study and take exams while fasting, they can make up the fasts later.

4. They are pregnant, breastfeeding or menstruating. Fasting while pregnant can harm the foetus, and fasting while breastfeeding may deprive the body of essential nutrients.

What Happens If Someone Breaks Their Fast Before the Prescribed Time?

If one breaks their fast for a valid reason, the expiation is to keep a fast on another day. Here, it is not deemed sinful because the matter was outside the person’s control.

One is not permitted to break a fast or purpose without reason. Allah commands us that if someone breaks a fast intentionally, they must fast for two months consecutively. If one cannot do so for health reasons, then they must feed 60 poor people.

How Does One Know Ramadan Has Started?

Ramadan begins when the crescent moon becomes visible. The Holy Prophet (sa) has stated that one should not fast until they know the new moon has come.6 Nowadays, science has afforded us the ability to know well ahead of time when Ramadan will come. Therefore, Muslims begin Ramadan when the new moon comes out, and Ramadan ends when the next new moon is sighted once more. Since the lunar calendar is 354 days and the Gregorian calendar is 365 days, the dates of Ramadan change with each passing year.

Is Fasting Exclusive to Muslims?

No, Islam is not the only religion which asks its adherents to fast. The Holy Qur’an says, ‘fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you.’7 Here, the Holy Qur’an is referring to those who belonged to religions which preceded Islam.

Judaism observes several periods of fasting, such as the fasts of Yom Kippur. In Hinduism, fasting is known as Upavasa and changes in its length and type of fast depending on the person. Buddha (as) also fasted throughout his life, and Buddhist monks and nuns often fast.8 Finally, the New Testament states that Jesus (as) told his followers regarding the attainment of high faith, that ‘this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.’9 Christianity therefore also has components of fasting. Thus, fasting is truly a global practice, found in all major religions. Ramadan is therefore part of a rich religious tradition in which people fast to become closer to God, although it is unique in the way it is practiced.

Why Do Muslims Read the Holy Qur’an so Often in Ramadan?

Ramadan is actually a celebration of the Holy Qur’an. It was during Ramadan that the Holy Qur’an’s revelation began, and in Ramadan, the Holy Qur’an was completed. Regarding this intrinsic connection, Allah the Almighty says: ‘The month of Ramadan is that in which the Qur’an was sent down as a guidance for mankind with clear proofs of guidance and discrimination.’10

Allah the Almighty would also send the angel Gabriel (as) every Ramadan to the Holy Prophet (sa): ‘Gabriel (as) used to meet him every night during Ramadan to revise the Qur’an with him.’11

Why Do Muslims Pray So Much in Ramadan?

During the month of Ramadan, Muslims make an extra effort to pray more. The Holy Prophet (sa) says, ‘Whoever prayed at night in it (the month of Ramadan) out of sincere Faith and hoping for a reward from Allah, then all his previous sins will be forgiven.’12 This shows Allah’s increased forgiveness and love during Ramadan, which Muslims try to reciprocate by praying often.

Where Do Muslims Go Every Night?

Muslims are supposed to spend extra time and attention on their prayers in Ramadan, and the best time is at night, when the world is quiet and the one praying can concentrate.

The greatest form of these optional prayers is tahajjud, which is offered when a person wakes up early while it’s still dark out. The word tahajjud literally means to sleep a part of the night, and then leave that sleep to pray. Thus, many Muslims sleep less and pray to Allah during the night in Ramadan.

But those unable to perform tahajjud prayers, can attend another special prayer called tarawih, which is offered after the last prayer, when the light of the sun fades from the night. The tarawih are offered in congregation. In some mosques, the whole of the Qur’an is recited piecemeal during these tarawih, divided up into the days of Ramadan.

What Does Charity Have to Do With Ramadan?

Islam connects the month of Ramadan with the welfare of the poor. Apart from empathising with them by fasting, Muslims are also encouraged to give back during this month. The Holy Prophet Muhammad (sa) was once asked what the best form of charity was, to which he responded, ‘charity in Ramadan.’13

Regarding the Holy Prophet (sa) himself, one of his closest companions narrates that during the month of Ramadan, ‘Allah’s Messenger (sa) was most generous in giving charity like the blowing wind.’14

What is Eid?

Eid refers to the festival of joy that returns every year. The end of Ramadan is marked by Eid al-Fitr. Al-Fitr means to break the fast, and so, this celebration signifies the end of Ramadan. Muslims offer a special prayer called the Eid prayer and gather with their families to rejoice at a month spent bettering themselves. But Eid is not the end; rather, Eid marks the continuation of our spiritual journey after Ramadan. The true Eid comes when we build upon the progress we have made in Ramadan and continue to improve ourselves and our connection with God and care for our fellow human beings throughout the year. Therein lies the inner peace we all yearn for, and therein lies true joy.

About the Author: Tariq Mahmood is an Imam of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Canada and serves as Secretary of The Existence Project Team for The Review of Religions.



2. Sunan Abi Dawud, Hadith 2363.

3. Sahih al-Bukhari, Hadith 1894.

4. The Holy Qur’an, 2:184.

5. Ibid.

6. Sunan Abi Dawud, Hadith 2326.

7. The Holy Qur’an, 2:184.


9. The Bible, Matthew 17:21.

10. The Holy Qur’an, 2:186.

11. Sahih al-Bukhari, Hadith 3554.

12. Sahih al-Bukhari, Hadith 2008

13. Jami’ al-Tirmidhi, Hadith 663.

14. Sahih Muslim, Hadith 2308a.