It’s almost a week into Ramadan and the Mavericks were a bit curious about what it all meant. Pakeeza Rasheed from the Khadija Leadership Network has kindly answered some of our questions:

What is the meaning of the word ‘Ramadan’?

Ramadan is taken from the word ‘ramad’, which means that which is intensely heated by the sun. The word ‘ramdhaa’ means the intense heat of the sun.

What does Ramadan involve?

Ramadan is the month that Muslims believe the Holy Quran was revealed to the Prophet Mohammed (SAW). Therefore, it is considered to be the holiest month in the Islamic calendar. It is a month of reflection and deeper spiritual connection to the divine. In order to do that Muslims give up food, water, sex, vices (such as smoking) and bad behaviour (e.g. gossip, backbiting, etc.) from dawn to sunset every day for a month. Fasting is considered very important in Islam and is one of the five pillars of Islam. The month is spent in greater contemplation, remembrance of Allah and prayer. Muslims strive to complete recitation of the entire Holy Quran at least once during the month and there is also a great emphasis on charity during Ramadan. It is obligatory on every Muslim to give money in charity. There are three types of charitable payments that people make during Ramadan:

1. Zakat al-Fitr is paid by every Muslim at the conclusion of Ramadan as a token of thankfulness to Allah for having enabled him or her to observe the obligatory fast. The main purpose is to provide for the poor so that they can take part in the festival after Ramadan, known as Eid al-Fitr.

2. Zakat al-Mal is one of the 5 pillars of Islam and mandatory for Muslims who have savings and other assets. It is customarily 2.5% of a Muslim’s total savings and wealth above a minimum amount. This zakat does not need to be paid during Ramadan but many people do so in the holy month as this money may help people in need to partake in Ramadan and Eid Al-Fitr. Some believe that the divine rewards of doing so may also be greater in Ramadan. Once again, this money is given in charity and there are a range of people and types of charities to whom Muslims can provide this money.

3. Sadaqa is the voluntary donation of money to charity. It can be any amount and given to any person or charity. Once again, many Muslims give donations during the month of Ramadan in the hopes of making a greater impact.

Muslims wake up before dawn and eat food in order to prepare for the fast ahead and are unable to eat or drink after dawn. This meal is known as Sehri. After eating Muslims then undertake the 1st prayer of the day, known as Fajr. Muslims break their fast at sunset (known as Iftar) and perform the 4th prayer of the day, Maghrib. Muslims generally perform 5 prayers a day during the entire year – Fajr, Zohr, Asr, Maghrib and Isha. Prayer is another pillar of Islam. In Ramadan, there is an additional prayer called ‘Taraweeh’ that Muslims perform after Isha prayer.

Muslims believe that on one of the final 10 nights of Ramadan the first verses of the Holy Quran were revealed but it is uncertain which night exactly was “Laylat al-Qadr’ – the special night. Therefore, during the last 10 days of Ramadan Muslims intensify their prayers, contemplation, and remembrance of Allah. Some Muslims spend the last 10 days of the month in I’tikaf, wherein Muslims sequester themselves, usually spending the entire period staying in the mosque, devoting the last 10 days to the remembrance of Allah.

Photo of the Quran taken by Ashkan Forouzani

Can people say they are ‘Muslim’ even if they do not fast?

Each person has their own relationship with Allah and is on their own spiritual journey, therefore only that person can say whether they are a Muslim and feel that connection to Allah. It is not for any other person to sit in judgment to say who is or is not a Muslim! Only Allah (SWT) has this power.

While Ramadan is mandatory on all Muslims after the age of puberty, there may be a vast range of reasons why someone is unable to fast during the month. Our religion allows for people to instead pay Fidya or feed a person in need for each fast not undertaken for medical or other valid reasons. Fidya payment is the concept of payment that is equivalent to feeding a person in need and must be done for each fast missed.

If a Muslim chooses not to fast or breaks a fast without a valid reason they must fast continuously for 60 straight for each fast missed or make payments, known as Kaffarah, which is a lot steeper than Fidya payment.

Are the elderly and the sick expected to fast during Ramadan?

If you are not able to medically fast during Ramadan then you are not expected to fast. There are clear exceptions in such cases.

Photo by Irfan Surijanto

When does Ramadan start and end? How long does it normally last?

Ramadan is the 9th month of the Muslim calendar. The Islamic calendar is based on the lunar cycle. At the end of the 8th month there is a sighting of the moon in New Zealand and if the moon is sighted, then Ramadan begins the following day. This year Ramadan started on 7 May 2019 and the moon sighting for the end of the month will occur on the 4th of June 2019 (on the 29th day of Ramadan). Depending on the sighting of the moon the month will either end on the 4th (moon sighted) or the 5th (moon not sighted). The first day of the next month, Shawwal, is when Eid Al-Fitr is celebrated. This is a festival where families and friends gather together to eat, celebrate and exchange gifts and money.

What are the parallels, if there are any, between Ramadan and other Abrahamic religions like Christianity and Judaism?

Yes, there are as fasting is a core part of all three religions, as a way of purification and greater connection to the divine. Judaism has several fasts but the most well known is Yom Kippur, a 25 hour fast. Christianity has the Daniel Fast and Lent.

Are there different levels of commitment and strictness that people adhere to during Ramadan? There’s talk about how some people won’t even swallow saliva.

Fasting, like all components of religion, is the connection between oneself and Allah. Therefore every person has their own level of commitment that is reflective of their spiritual journey. As for the issue of swallowing saliva, that is a known misconception! There is nothing in our religion that says you cannot swallow your own saliva. As someone who was tricked into doing this during one Ramadan by my mischievous brother when I was very young, it can actually be painful and lead to a myriad of health issues, including mouth ulcers. As noted above, there are guidelines around medical issues and this month is not meant to put people’s health at risk or cause health issues.

Photo by Matin Firouzabadi

What are some of the main prejudices that Muslims experience from non-Muslims in relation to Ramadan in NZ if any?

New Zealanders, in general, are pretty accepting about Ramadan and Eid Al-Fitr. The main issue is that employers may struggle to allow flexibility during the month of Ramadan. Understanding that fasting may require an adjustment to working hours or conditions and being flexible enough to do that. There also may be no flexibility in allowing employees to take days off to celebrate Eid Al-Fitr, which has the same significance as Christmas does for Christians. Similarly with schools and universities when it comes to sports activities and exams.

How do Muslim-majority countries make it easier for Muslims to fast? For example, are business hours changed?

In many Muslim majority countries, especially in the Middle East, most businesses either close or adjust their business hours to ensure shorter days. Given the level of heat in these countries, it makes sense to limit people being outside and working while fasting, keeping in mind that you cannot even drink water during Ramadan. Businesses come alive closer to Iftar time and then again at Sehri time. Schools are either closed during Ramadan or have much shorter days (e.g. half a day only).

Kaaba, Mecca

How can non-Muslim people support Muslims during Ramadan in NZ?

Be aware of the Muslims around you and check up on them occasionally to see if there is anything you can do to support them. If you notice that colleagues are not being supported by their bosses or teachers during this time, then don’t be afraid to be an ally to your Muslim friend! Also, don’t be afraid to ask questions and get others involved in busting some myths – Muslims love talking about their religion and clearing up any misconceptions. If you know that your Muslim friends don’t have a lot of community support (e.g. if they are an international student and their family is back home) then talk about hosting an Iftar with them and some friends or arrange a celebration together for Eid Al-Fitr.

How is the end of Ramadan celebrated and what is the meaning behind that way of celebration? How much variance is there in how it’s celebrated?

The end of Ramadan is celebrated with a day known as Eid Al-Fitr. It is a time when the friends, family and the Muslim community at large comes together to celebrate the end of Ramadan. It is a day that begins with paying Zakat Al-Fitr and then undertaking special Eid prayers. The day is one of gratitude and festivities, thanking Allah for his blessings in the month of Ramadan, for the rejuvenation of the religion and purification of individual Muslims. There is a lot of cultural variance in how Eid Al-Fitr is celebrated, including the length of time (between 1 and 3 days), the food, the clothes, the rituals (including open houses, gift giving or giving money) but generally, the festivities involve prayer, food, and family.


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