In tenth grade, during my world history class, while we were learning a chapter on religion, Islam was brought up, and the most curious questions sprung up about Ramadan. People questioned how long one fasts, why we do so, and why there aren’t any Muslim holidays in the school calendar.
Ramadan is a month-long observance in the Islamic calendar that is based on the lunar calendar. Muslims avoid food, drinks, and some physical needs during the day.
This year Ramadan landed on March 23 and ends today April 20.
This month is a time for spiritual reflection, acts of charity, self-improvement, and increased devotion and worship. Despite its significance for Muslims worldwide, including those living in South Florida, Ramadan is often misunderstood and shrouded in myths and misconceptions. This article aims to clarify some of the most common misunderstandings about Ramadan and provide a better understanding of its significance and purpose to foster a greater interfaith respect.
Ramadan is only about fasting
While abstaining from food and drink is a central part of Ramadan, there are many other activities that people engage in throughout the month.
One of the most important activities is praying. Prayer is known as the first pillar of Islam and is an essential part of the Islamic faith. Muslims pray five times a day during specific periods, the times range from pre-dawn until before midnight.
During Ramadan, one is obligated to perform the five daily prayers and can engage in voluntary night prayer known as Taraweeh, in which chapters of the Quran are recited in units. Through excessive prayer, one seeks forgiveness from God and offers supplication, which is more significant during Ramadan due to the belief that the gates of Paradise are open during this month, while those of hell are closed, and the devils are chained up.
Another activity is charity. During the month of Ramadan, Muslims are encouraged to fulfill their yearly mandatory duty of donating to charities. This is known as Zakat and is also one of the pillars of Islam. Charities can take many forms, from donating money to an organization and volunteering to feed the poor to offering help to your community.
Lastly, during Ramadan most Muslims take this time to abstain from sinful behavior. This goes along with the belief about the devils being chained up, which makes abstaining a bit easier.
From 2021 until now, many non-muslims have gone on social media to participate in “Ramadan challenges” where they fast just like Muslims. But these types of social media posts build upon the misconception that Ramadan is only about abstaining from eating and drinking, when in reality, it is a spiritual experience more than just fasting.
“These challenges or posts [of non-Muslims fasting during Ramadan] don’t equate to how us Muslims fast, but I don’t think they are harmful either,” Rabiya Usman, a 28-year-old Muslim shares. “If [social media posts] help raise awareness about Ramadan, then I don’t see any problem with it. Still, most of them don’t really represent how we fast because we abstain from more than food and water and engage in getting closer to God.”
All Muslims fast during Ramadan
Not every Muslim is capable of fasting during the month of Ramadan, so if you have a Muslim friend or colleague who you see eating or drinking, you don’t want to assume that they’ve broken their fasts, as there are exceptions to not fasting for certain people.
Children, the elderly, pregnant or breastfeeding women, and those who are ill or traveling are exempt from fasting during Ramadan. These individuals, however, are able to make their own decisions based on whether they believe they are physically and mentally fit. While these individuals might choose to not fast during this month, they are still encouraged to engage in acts of worship, such as praying, giving charity, and other spiritual activities. Their lack of fasting during this month is not a hindrance to their prayer and supplication to God.
It’s also important to note that women on their period are not allowed to fast neither are they exempted, therefore they are required to make their fasts up after Ramadan.
Twenty-six-year-old Hafza Nasim suffers from a hereditary blood disorder known as thalassemia, so she opts to not fast on weekdays.
“I work five days a week and get [blood] transfusions once a month,” explains Nasim. “It’s hard to keep a fast because I suffer from anemia, I feel fatigue easily and my heart rate starts to increase.”
However, Nasim states that she is planning on donating money to charity to make up for the fasts she hasn’t kept.
“I still feel guilty about not keeping the fasts, so I plan on paying the cost of a meal for everyday I miss [a fast],” Nasim explained.
It is disrespectful to eat or drink around Muslims during Ramadan
Generally, no Muslim will ever feel disrespected if you eat in front of them while they are fasting, so it’s unnecessary for anyone not observing the month to refrain themselves from eating or drinking. Most Muslim women on their periods and others who cannot fast eat in front of their family, and there is no provision or courtesy in Islam that prohibits people not fasting from eating in front of those who are.
While I was fasting in my junior year of high school, my friends asked me if I felt uncomfortable with them eating in front of me. I told them that eating in front of a fasting person is not disrespectful, this is because one of the main takeaways from Ramadan is to practice and learn self-restraint. Some Muslims also believe restraining yourself from eating or drinking near someone not fasting increases the reward of fasting as it strengthens one to become patient. Though there might be a lot of articles online stating that non-Muslims should try not to eat or drink in front of Muslims, this statement goes against the fundamental reason for fasting during this month.
Fasting is harmful to health
Oftentimes fasting has been misunderstood by people as something harmful for bodies, however, research shows otherwise.
Research has shown that intermediate fasting which is done during Ramadan assists in burning fat and dropping insulin levels.
Fasting is also shown by research to induce autophagy, which is a body’s cellular recycling system that helps to maintain cellular homeostasis by eliminating damaged or dysfunctional components of the body. It is also important for other cellular processes, such as nutrient recycling, energy metabolism, and the immune response.
This misconception about fasting is so widely believed that even famous people, such as Justin Bieber and his wife Hailey speak about how they didn’t understand fasting from eating and drinking.
“Fasting off food never really made sense to me,” Hailey said. “If you want to fast from the TV or your phone, I think I believe in that more, but fasting from food never really made sense to me. If you are fasting sweets or fasting sugar, that clicks to me.”
Many people like the Biebers aren’t aware of the benefits of fasting from food and water, and believe that it is harmful, when in reality science has shown that it is more beneficial than harmful.