Have you ever offered a friend or coworker food or a drink and their response was "No, thank you, I am fasting" or "No, thank you, It's Ramadan"?
Have you ever wondered what Ramadan is and why so many people around the world take part in this intense month-long ceremony? Hopefully this post can help clear up some questions that you may have about the Islamic month of Ramadan.
Every year, around 1.8 billion Muslims around the world observe the holy month of Ramadan. During Ramadan, Muslims fast from dawn until dusk. That means no food or water for almost 17 hours here in Colorado. But Muslims don’t just abstain from food and water. We are required to abstain from sex, smoking, swearing, arguments, bad deeds, and gossip when we are fasting. Many people eat a protein-filled breakfast before starting their fast and break their fast with dates, soup, and a yogurt drink called La’bin. After prayers, families gather around for a larger feast. For my family that includes dishes like Tashreeb, which is homemade bread smothered with a lamb or chicken stew that has potatoes, onions, and chickpeas. Other dishes that my family enjoy are Smak Mashwee (grilled fish), Dolma (stuffed grape leaves), and Maklouba, a dish that means "upside down" and has meat and vegetables covered by rice. Any food that is left over is used the next day because wasting food is frowned upon, especially when so many people go hungry every day. At the mosque I attend, any leftover food is packaged in to-go boxes and given to those in need.
Fasting during the month of Ramadan is one of the pillars of the Islamic faith, so every Muslim is required to fast. There are exceptions to the rule, such as children, the elderly, the ill, pregnant and nursing women, and those who are traveling. Ramadan is the month of giving, blessings, mercy, and forgiveness. It is also about coming together as a community and being grateful for what we have and sharing with those in need. Ramadan is a reminder to people that we are all equal. The last ten nights are a time of intense worship followed by a three-day holiday, Eid Al Fitr, when the Islamic community gathers together and celebrates. In the United States, many Muslim families go to the local parks for picnics and potlucks. Every family is required at the end of the month to give to charity, even when they themselves have very little. The reason once again is unity, showing that if we all come together, we can aid those in need of help.
A lot of my coworkers asked me to come up with a “What Not To Do” list during Ramadan. They feel really bad when they are eating in front of me and often apologize. Please don’t do that. It’s okay to eat in front of people who are fasting, and in fact I like to joke that we get brownie points for that. We do ask one thing of you though. Please don’t stand too close to us when we are talking. Why? Because of bad breath. People who fast usually experience bad breath, not because they have poor dental hygiene, but because not eating or drinking anything for long periods of time leads to halitosis. Also, fasting isn't about losing weight or being on a diet. It is a spiritual journey that many of us embark on and to belittle fasting as a diet is extremely offensive. It’s okay if you would like to fast with us to go through the experience, but we would really appreciate if it wasn’t motivated by the desire to lose weight. Basically, please just act as you usually would around us. Excuse the lack of energy, but fear not, everything will be like it was after the end of Ramadan.
To my fellow Muslims reading this, Ramadan Kareem and Eid Mubarak. To my co-workers, watch out. I’m going on an eating spree in a couple of days and I’m taking you with me.
Want to learn more? Check out the Gale Virtual Reference Library for in-depth articles on Ramadan and other aspects of the Muslim faith. Look to Culture Grams to see how Ramadan and other holidays are celebrated around the world. And as always, check our catalog for materials about Ramadan for both children and adults.
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