Everyone who is part of the Islamic community, as well as the majority of those who aren’t, are aware that Ramadhan is the month of fasting, otherwise known as sawm. This is when Muslims around the world abstain from eating and drinking during sunlight hours as they seek to become closer to Allah (SWT).
There are many rules for fasting during Ramadhan [link to Ramadhan page], not all of which are centred around the act of observing sawm itself. One such rule is when Muslims sit and eat two meals together before and after the day’s fast – known as suhoor and iftar.
The time for suhoor, the pre-dawn meal, changes day-by-day depending on the time of sunrise. This is the meal that families share together where they will usually eat foods packed full of nutrients and provide a long-lasting energy boost – particularly important for when Ramadhan falls [link to When is Ramadhan page] during the summer months when the days are longer. The sunlight hours at the peak of summer can mean that Muslims are sitting down to eat the suhoor meal only a few hours after iftar.
Iftar, the evening meal, is when Muslims come together to break the day’s fast after sunset. Because of this, there is no set time for iftar as it will change day-by-day depending on the time of sunset. There are no rules for what a Muslim can and cannot have for the iftar meal, though it is traditional to first break the fast by the eating of dates as it is believed that this is how the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) broke is fast. Once the fast-breaking time has passed, Muslims are free to indulge in food and drink, as well as engage in sexual activity, up until sunrise.
What is Included in the Ramadhan Fast?
Abstaining from food and drink are the most widely known aspects of the fast, but this is not the be-all and end-all of sawm, with Muslims also refraining from sexual activity, cussing, impure thoughts and negative feelings (such as anger and jealousy). This is a time of self-reflection and personal development.
Muslims use this as a time to slow down, which is why many Islamic counties opt for flexible working hours to accommodate the fast and shops will remain open after sunset, even during the middle of summer when the days are long. Instead, many Muslims use this as an opportunity to increase their daily prayers to Allah (SWT), as well as reciting the Holy Qur’an from beginning to end.
Children who would otherwise not be expected to partake in the fast (as this is not obligatory until the age of puberty) are encouraged to increase their learning of Islam and why it is that we observe sawm during Ramadhan. It is also common for parents to encourage older children to take part in the fast either on selected days or during the morning or afternoon as a means of preparing them for Ramadhan when they are of an age when they are expected to fast.
Rules of Ramadhan Fasting
As per the rules of the fast, Muslims are required to pay either Fidya [link to Fidya page] or Kaffarah, depending on whether sawm has been broken for a good reason or not. Fidya, usually set at around £5 per day, is a penalty that should be paid by any Muslim who cannot fast for an acceptable reason (such as on medical grounds, a pregnant/breastfeeding/menstruating woman, or someone who is too old and/or frail to fast throughout the day).
Kaffarah is considerably more expensive than Fidya – in fact, it is 60 times more expensive as this is the value of feeding 60 hungry people every day. This means that for every day of fasting that is missed without good reason, a Muslim should pay £300 (on the basis that Fidya is set at £5). Alternatively, instead of making the payment, a Muslim can choose to observe a 60-day continuous fast (although it is not permissible to fast during the Eid celebrations that come following Ramadhan).
As well as fasting during Ramadhan, Muslims will also make an obligatory charitable payment known as Zakah-ul-Fitr (otherwise known as Fitrana) [Link to Fitrana page]. This can be paid to ILM who will ensure that your Fitrana payments are distributed in accordance with the Qur’an.
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