For millions of Muslims in the Northeast, Saturday marks the start of the holy month of Ramadan. Oftentimes in the media, Ramadan is synonymous with starvation and the ubiquitous “not even water?” meme (which, don’t get me wrong, is a well-loved joke in the Muslim community).
But this is merely a surface-level understanding of Ramadan. In Islam, Ramadan was the month that Quran was revealed to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), making it a very spiritually-charged, powerful month for Muslims.
If you’re looking to learn more for yourself or to be a good support to your Muslim friend who will be fasting in the coming weeks, here’s your fact or fiction crash course to Ramadan.
Fact: You can’t consume anything. Yes, not even water. At all. Under any circumstance.
At this point, it may sound like a broken record to even mention this. But yes — for the millionth time, Muslims who are fasting during Ramadan can’t consume any beverage of any kind from when they begin fasting at sunrise until they break their fast at sunset.
This also applies to medications and vitamins — any form of consumption means you have broken your fast. If you feel ill or those annoying spring allergies kick in, you either have to take your medication before you begin your fast or after you break it, even though technically medicine isn't considered “food.” This means that if you have a migraine, begin your fast or push on through the symptoms until sundown.
That being said, given the physical challenges that fasting presents, it’s important to note that there are several groups who are exempt from fasting, like people with serious conditions like chronic illness or eating disorders and people who are travelers, pregnant women, elderly people, children under the age of puberty and women when they are menstruating.
Fiction: Muslims fast for 30 days straight
This may seem like a joke (but trust me: It’s not). Like any other calendar month, it's true that Ramadan is for 30 days. But more often than not, this gets misconstrued as Muslims fasting for 30 days straight. So instead of “Muslims fast for the month of Ramadan,” a better way of putting it is that “Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset each day, for 30 days, during the month of Ramadan.”
To be clear: Muslims don’t just brace these long fasts without any preparation, which will be (on average) approximately 14 to 15 hours in length this year.
Before sunrise, many will wake up early to eat “suhoor,” (think of it as a super early breakfast) which will usually consist of high protein foods like eggs, yogurt, oats, etc. Additionally, this gives us the time to drink several glasses of water to prepare for the day. In the evening at sundown, those who were fasting will break their fast with a date and a meal known as “iftar.”
Fact: Ramadan is based on the lunar calendar
The Islamic calendar follows the lunar calendar, which is predominantly used in Asia. This means the day that Ramadan begins changes every year (it shifts back approximately 11 days for the next year). Given this, we can expect Ramadan 2023 to begin around March 22 (though the official date can differ depending on which masjid you follow, which area you live in, if you practice Shia Islam, etc.)
Additionally, the time at which Muslims break their fast changes every day. Depending on where you live, the time and dates may vary, but the general rule of thumb is that each day, the fast begins 1-2 minutes earlier than the previous day and will break 1-2 minutes later. For those of us who are fasting on campus this year, here are the official sehr and iftar times for 2022.
Fiction: You shouldn’t eat or drink in front of a fasting person
Maybe this opinion differs depending on who you ask, but for myself and other Muslims I know, the general consensus is that people who aren’t fasting shouldn't feel weird about eating or drinking around someone who is fasting.
More often than not, the intention behind avoiding taking sips or putting the granola bar behind your back is sincere — you don’t want to be inconsiderate, and the Muslim community appreciates you greatly for that. But as someone who has had friends do this while fasting, trying to go out of your way to hide your food under the table or pushing your Starbucks drink away when we take a seat only makes it more noticeable.
Spare us the awkwardness, and just ask us if it’s okay (we’ll likely say that it is) and eat normally. It’s not like we aren’t ever going to eat again!
Fact: Your Muslim friend will be up at odd hours, and might have to leave throughout the day to pray
Given that most of us will be up before the sun, you can expect many of your Muslim friends to be tired throughout the day, taking naps or responding to text messages at 3:45 a.m. (it really is like that).
Additionally, since Ramadan challenges us to connect with our religion and spirituality, many of your Muslim colleagues or friends will likely have to leave class, meetings or social outings throughout the day to keep up with their daily prayers. So if you hear an adhan go off in the lecture hall or over Zoom, don’t be alarmed — your fellow Muslim member of society is merely trying to be on time to her prayers.
Fiction: Fasting is the main goal of Ramadan
In addition to abstaining from food and beverage, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar calls upon us to re-examine ourselves and our relationship with God.
Fasting is not just about food — it’s a practice of focus, self-discipline and empathy for those who routinely live in poverty. Prayer serves as a time to repent, yes, but also as a time for meditative introspection.
It’s also heavily encouraged, for those that have the means to do so, to donate money to charity (called sadaqah), spend time reading the Quran and attend lectures to gain a deeper understanding of the month and its foundations.
Breaking the fast isn’t only done through eating food or taking a sip of water — getting angry at others, being violent or intentionally causing harm can also invalidate one’s fast, further reaffirming the deeper sentiments behind why Muslims who are able to fast are required to do so.
At its core, Ramadan is a month for spiritual healing and a time for the Muslim community to reconnect with one another. Whether it’s through having suhoor and iftar together, going to the masjid after the fast breaks for nightly prayers or simply having someone who can relate to the caffeine withdrawals, Ramadan is a beautiful month that is built upon showing love to others and being present in the moment — not starvation and restriction.
Ramadan Mubarak, everyone!