The holy month of Ramadan
Ramadan holds a special significance to Muslims all over the world. It is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, which follows the lunar calendar. This means the beginning of Ramadan is set back 11 days each year. During this holy month, Muslims fast from dawn till dusk for a period of 29 to 30 days depending on the sightings of the moon.
Ramadan started on July 19 in Australia and will end this Sunday. The end of Ramadan is marked by a celebration called Eid Al Fitr that means
festivity of breaking the fast. This year Ramadan is in winter which makes it easier for Muslims who can break their fast at 5.30pm. In the summer months fasting continues till about 9.15pm.
Meaning of Ramadan
Refraining from food and water during the month of Ramadan is not the only important aspect of this month. Self control, prayer, recitation of the Islamic holy book the Quran and refraining from sex are also practiced during Ramadan. Furthermore, abstaining from general sinful behaviour and language is said to redirect and cleanse the soul by freeing it from impurities. It's believed these actions encourage generosity and empathy for people who are less fortunate. Zakaat is the act of paying money to local mosques who distribute the funds to disadvantaged people in the community.
Breaking the fast
The act of breaking the fast is called Iftar. This occurs at dusk and is traditionally broken with a selection of dates, dried fruit, nuts and milk. This is usually followed by prayer before the main meal is eaten, which varies greatly depending on ethnicity.
Ramadan is a month that brings communities together and family and friends gather to break fast with each other. A range of select sweets are enjoyed after the main meal, often with tea and coffee.
Traditionally, Muslims wake before dawn in order to eat a meal before holding their fast for the next day. This is called Suhoor.
Who should fast?
For all Muslims who reach the age of puberty, it is compulsory to start fasting during Ramadan.
There are exceptions though. People who are catorgorised with a mental illness, who have ongoing chronic illnesses such as kidney disease, or who need to take regular medication are allowed to partially fast or not fast at all. Often people who cannot complete the full fast will refrain from eating but will drink water.
Women who are pregnant or having their menstrual period are also exempt from fasting. Furthermore, if one is travelling and feels that fasting would harm their health they are exempt.
Eid Al Fitr
The end of Ramadan is marked by a festival that lasts three days. Early on the first day, Muslims gather in the morning to perform Eid prayers in mosques and community centres.
During the three day period, friends and family visit one another and congratulate each other for fulfilling the responsibilities of Ramadan. Traditionally children are given gifts and money from the elders in the family and acquire new clothes to mark the festival. Overseas family and friends are congratulated.
This festival is usually a national holiday in Muslim countries. Often community festivals are organised in Muslim populated areas that include rides and games for children. Traditional food and sweet stalls showcase the best local cuisine for Muslims to indulge in.