September 25, 2006 at 11:44 am (Arabic, Islam, Pakistan, Religion)

Ramadan (, ramaDān or ramzān) is one of the holiest months of the Islamic calendar. During this lunar month, Muslims are ordered to fast (refraining from all food and drink) from dawn to dusk. It is customary to eat a breakfast (سحري, saHarī, also pronounced sehrī by South Asians, “of or pertaining to سحر, saHar, “dawn”) before keeping one’s fast and to eat a meal (إفطار, ifTār, “breaking a fast”; also إفطاري, ifTārī, “of or pertaining to breaking a fast”) while breaking it. Oftentimes people will eat a large sehrī, break it with a lavish ifTār, and eat dinner later at night. Considering the type and quantity foods eaten during sehrī and ifTār, it should not be surprising that some people actually gain weight during Ramadan.

Because of fasting, in Muslim countries the schedule for most places changes. This is partly so that people can get home in time for ifTār. (IfTār must be done at a certain time.) This is also done to minimize inconveniences for people – which often means starting later than usual even though one would have been awake before dawn. (Like breaking one’s fast, there is a certain time one must begin one’s fast.)

Keeping and breaking one’s fast must be deliberate. It must be at the proper time and with the proper statement of intent in Arabic. This is not usually a problem as in Muslim countries television stations will broadcast the statement of intent visually and by audio for all to read or recite.

The set times are determined by the timings for two of the five daily prayers. One must begin one’s fast the moment Fajr (فجر, fajr, when masculine: “dawn”; when feminine: “the morning prayer,” the first of the five prayers; also: صلاة الفجر, Salāt al-fajr, “the prayer of/at dawn” or “the prayer of Fajr”) begins, which is at dawn. The fast must be broken the moment Maghrib (مغرب, maghrib, when masculine: “sunset” or “west”; when feminine: “the sunset prayer,” the fourth of the five prayers; also: صلاة المغرب, Salāt al-maghrib, “the prayer of/at sunset” or “the prayer of Maghrib”) begins, which is at sunset. In Pakistan, people go around making noise to wake people up for sehrī so that they will have enough time to eat and keep their fast. Sirens – somewhat like air-raid sirens – are sounded when fasting is to begin, and similarly when it is to be broken. Besides the sirens, one may determine when each event has arrived by the respective prayer’s azān (أذان, adhān, call to prayer).

Ramadan is the month during which nominal Muslims attempt to be (supposedly) real Muslims. They try to pray fives time a day (at the very least they pray twice a day – Fajr and Maghrib), they try to read the Qur’an every day, they attend hours-long prayers called tarāwīh or tarāvī (صلاة التراويح, Salāt at-tarāwīH, “the prayer of tarāwīH“), they try not to get angry, they try not to steal or cheat or defraud, they try not to swear. Other prohibitions during fasting include sexual relations and taking in anything (by mouth or any other means), which means no smoking either. Everything prohibited during fasting is permitted when it is not fasting time – that is, between ifTār and sehrī. Well, behavioral stuff (like getting angry, swearing, cheating, lying, stealing, defrauding, et cetera) are technically never permitted; people try to avoid these during the entire month of Ramadan.

Some people believe that Muslims ought to behave like Muslims the entire year rather than just one month of the year. Others respond that at least they’re acting like Muslims at some point in the year rather than none at all. One group that is distinctive in this regard are the Nizārī Ismā‛īlī Shiites (ألشيعيون الإسماعيليون النظاريون, ash-shī‛iyyūn al-ismā‛īliyyūn an-nizāriyyūn), also known as Aga Khanis. They believe precisely that the spiritual and behavioral aspects of fasting – being a good person, acting like a Muslim, faithfulness in prayer, piety, and so on – ought to practiced every day and not just one month in a year. By teaching and practicing these aspects of fasting all year around, they say they are fasting all year; they are fasting every day of a year. They do not observe fasting by refraining from meals and other rules pertaining to canonical fasting during Ramadan.

At the end of Ramadan comes Eid al-Fitr (عيد الفطر, ‛īd al-fiTr, “the celebration of breaking the fast” – (فطر, fiTr) and (إفطار, ifTār) share the same root), which is celebrated on the first day of the month after Ramadan, Shawwal (ألشوال, ash-shawwāl, the tenth month of the Islamic calendar).



  1. Isaac Schrödinger said,

  2. pork eater said,

    i got tired just reading that Thank God Im not a muslim.

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