5 things you didn’t know about Ramadan

CHICAGO — Ramadan is the holiest of months for Muslims across the globe. While many observe fast during this time, there is more to Ramadan than not eating food. Here’s a list of 5 important tidbits that provide a more intimate understanding of this holy month celebrated by a near 1.8 billion people:

1. Fasting occurs from sunrise till sundown

A common misconception about Ramadan is that people don’t eat anything at all, which couldn’t be further from the truth. People eat a lot actually, but only during certain times.

Getty Image photo

In this month, Muslims wake up before sunrise and eat a hearty meal to last them throughout the day. This meal is called “suhoor” in Arabic. Muslims then break their fast with a big meal at sundown, which is called “iftar.” In Islamic tradition and across many cultures, the fast is broken with a date, but this is not mandatory.

The breaking of the fast at sundown is traditionally celebrated with a copious assortment of foods. It’s a joyous occasion that people often gather together for. Ramadan calender’s are marked in advance with parties and events centered around sundown.

2. Not even water

An answer to the most frequently asked question: Yes, Muslims don’t drink water during their fast, either.

Fasting, however, is not expected of everyone. If fasting would be dangerous to an individual’s health such as those with a medical condition or the elderly, they are excused.

Young children, people who are diabetic and nursing and pregnant women are also not expected to fast either.

3. Ramadan does not take place the same time every year 

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar but it is difficult to pinpoint when it will take place every year because it follows a lunar calendar. A lunar calendar is based upon the cycle of the moon’s phases and it’s used to determine religious holidays and festivals.

PUTRAJAYA, MALAYSIA – JUNE 05 2016: An officer of Malaysia’s Islamic authority uses a telescope to perform “rukyah”, the sighting of the new moon of Ramadan (Photo by Mohd Samsul Mohd Said/Getty Images)

Some Muslim communities scan the sky at dusk in the beginning of the month in search of the new moon to announce the start of Ramadan. Some other holidays that use the lunar calendar include the Chinese New Year and the Hindu festival of lights, Diwali.

Because the month relies on the lunar calendar, Ramadan begins two weeks sooner every year. While Ramadan began on May 26 this year, it began on June 6 in 2016.

4. You fast from more than just food

Ramadan is more than just an occasion, it’s about adopting a lifestyle. The fast transcends food. It’s meant to be a time where people refrain from vices and worldly pleasures. People use this time to actively exercise patience and discipline and focus on their connection with God. People look at this month as an opportunity to work towards becoming a better version of themselves, to combat their personal issues and problems, their anger and jealousy and idleness. It’s considered a month of forgiveness.

PATTANI, THAILAND – OCTOBER 13: Thai Muslims release hundred of balloons after a morning prayer marking the start of the Islamic feast of Eid al-fitr outside Pattani mosque on October 13, 2007 in Pattani,  (Photo by Chumsak Kanoknan/Getty Images)

5. Eid Al-Fitr 

Eid Al-Fitr is like Christmas morning, a day of giddy excitement. The “Feast of Breaking the Fast,” is an important religious holiday that marks the end of Ramadan. Families get dressed in their best attire and head to local community centers and mosques for a service to commemorate the end of the spiritual month.

Once the service is done, people greet one another by saying “Eid Mubarak.” And then it’s time to party.

Pictures, hugs, gifts are exchanged and lunch and dinner awaits.