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Answers to common questions non-Muslims ask about fasting in Ramadan

August 23, 10:44 AM  Baltimore Muslim ExaminerJ.


Samia Mair

the Baltimore Muslim Examiner. Read's terms of use.

Doug Zubenel

The month of Ramadan in the United States (and elsewhere)officially began this past Friday after sunset when the new crescent moon was sighted. Consequently, the first day of the month-long fast began on Saturday.

One scholar describes Ramadan as such:

The month of Ramadan was the month of the descent of the Qur’an. In this holiest of Islamic months, Muslims combine physical and psychological purification with an intensification of prayer, recitation of the Qur’an, and acts of charity. During this month, in almost all Islamic cities, vast amounts of food are provided free for the poor, and the cost of the one meal that one and one’s family does not eat each day is given to the needy. (Seyyed Hossein Nasr, The Heart of Islam)

In my experience, many non-Muslims ask similar questions about fasting in Ramadan. Below is a brief response to some of the common questions.

Why do you fast?

The simple answer is: God has commanded us to do. The Qur’an states:

O you who believe! Fasting has been made obligatory upon you just as it was made obligatory upon those who were before you, so that you may have Taqwa (piety). (2:183)

The month of Ramadan in which was revealed the Qur’an, a guidance for mankind and clear proofs for the guidance and the Criterion (between right and wrong). So whoever of you sights (the crescent on the first night) the month (of Ramadan), he must observe Saum (fast) that (month). (2:185)

The Prophet Muhammad, may God bless him and grant him peace, stated:

Islam was built upon five (pillars): The testimony that none has the right to be worshipped except Allaah and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allaah, the establishment of the prayer, paying Zakah (obligatory charity), pilgrimage (Hajj) to the House (the Ka’bah) and fasting Ramadan. (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)

Islam also teaches that there are many virtues and benefits of fasting. For example, according to statements made by the Prophet Muhammad (saas), fasting shields Muslims from the Hellfire and there is a special gate in Paradise called Ar-Rayyan that people who have fasted will enter on the Day of Resurrection. With respect to Ramadan in particular, the Prophet Muhammad (saas) stated:

Every good deed a son of Adam does will be multiplied, a good deed receiving a tenfold to seven hundredfold reward. God has said, “With the exception of fasting, for it is done for My sake and I give a reward for it. One abandons his passion and his food for My sake. The one who fasts has two occasions of joy, one when he breaks his fast and one when he meets his Lord. The bad breath of one who fasts is sweeter to God than the fragrance of musk. (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)

Whoever fast Ramadan with faith and seeking reward, he will be forgiven for his previous sins. (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)

The best charity is the charity during Ramadan. (At-Tirmidhi)

No water?!

The Arabic word for fasting (As-Sawm) means to abstain. In the Islamic context it means to abstain from eating, drinking, and sexual intercourse from dawn until sunset. As many non-Muslims have noticed, it is relatively easy not to eat for a day, but not quenching one’s thirst is far more challenging, especially in the hot months. A faster also must exhibit the best conduct and not backbite, slander, talk excessively, get angry, etc.

Many benefits result from abstaining in this regard. For example, not being able to eat and drink as desired engenders mercy for those who regularly go hungry and appreciation for the blessings one has been given. It also teaches the faster self-restraint and patience. In Islam, conquering the desire of the stomach is considered one of the most difficult things to do. If one can control that desire, one can control other desires that lead to sin. Fasting also strengthens the community, who share in this blessed month and prayer and break fast together. Fasting has health benefits as well. The Prophet Muhammad stated, “Fast and be healthy.” (Ibn as-Sunni and Abu Nu’aym)

Don’t you get tired from not eating and drinking for so long?

Yes and no. It is true (at least in my experience) that when you do not eat and drink all day you have less energy to exercise, for example. Additionally, much of the night during Ramadan is spent in prayer so Muslims also tend to get less sleep.

Islam teaches that the Qur’an was revealed during the month of Ramadan, the holiest month for Muslims. Accordingly, it is a special time for Muslims to focus on it. For example, in addition to the obligatory prayers and regular voluntary prayers, Muslims also do Taraweeh prayers in Ramadan after the obligatory night prayer. During Taraweeh prayers, a large portion of the Qur’an is recited each night (lasting for about an hour and a half). Over the course of the month, the entire Qur’an is recited.

The answer to the question above is “no” to the extent that the spiritual aspects of Ramadan and the virtues and benefits associated with this month are energizing. So one might have less energy to do what one does during their normal routine but more energy to engage in worship, which is tremendously satisfying.

What if you are sick, do you still have to fast?

Fasting is required for Muslims who have reached puberty and who are of sound mind. If fasting would jeopardize the health of the person (e.g., elderly, someone with a disease, pregnant or nursing mothers), that person does not have to fast. When traveling one does not have to fast and menstruating women do not fast. There are many sound judgments with respect to who must fast, who is exempt from fasting, who must make up a fast, and when it is permissible to break a fast. Suffice it to say, while fasting during the month of Ramadan is required of Muslims, it is meant to improve health in the broadest understanding of that word and not undermine it.

Is it rude for non-Muslims to eat in front of Muslims during Ramadan?

No, we can take it! For me, at least, not eating and drinking when other people are eating and drinking shows me that I am able to control my desires. Additionally, children are not required to fast, so those of us with children not only are watching them eat but cooking for them as well. It is my understanding that Muslims who are not fasting for various legitimate reasons (e.g., ill, traveling) should try to refrain from eating and drinking in front of other Muslims who are fasting.

So much more can be said about Ramadan and fasting. This brief discussion only grazes the surface and cannot adequately describe the beauty and spirituality of this blessed month.

Ramadan Kareem!

Related articles:

President Obama wishes Muslims a 'Ramadan Kareem'

Ramadan reminder: watching the tongue

Ramadan reminder: avoiding extremes

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