Blog written by Kami Hero Youssef Ayoub, a high school teacher from Morocco.
Ramadan (also Ramazan, Ramzan, Ramadhan, or Ramathan) is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and is celebrated annually by Muslims around the world as a month of fasting, prayer, reflection, and community. Muslims observe this sacred month of Ramadan to mark when Allah sent an angel to Prophet Muhammad to reveal the Quran, the Islamic holy book, in 610 AD. This revelation is known as the ‘night of power’ or ‘Laylat Al Qadar’ in Arabic.
Ramadan translates into English as ‘burning heat’ or ‘scorching heat’ which is an ode to when it was first observed. With over one billion Muslims living all around the world, some Muslims will not experience Ramadan in a hot climate like the Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) and the first Muslims did.
Ramadan is always observed for the entirety of the ninth month of the Islamic year, but it has no fixed date. This is because the Islamic calendar is based on the lunar cycle, and this means it shifts by 10/11 days every year (in the Gregorian calendar) in line with the cycle of the moon.
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Tracking the moon
There are three main ways Muslims can track the moon to signal the start of Ramadan:
- The moon above Mecca
Many Muslims wait until the ninth new moon has been sighted above Mecca before they commence Ramadan. This can sometimes be difficult with cloud coverage, so the dates can change at short notice.
- The moon in their local area
Some Muslims prefer to wait until they can see the ninth new moon in their local area or above their local mosque before they commence Ramadan. This can mean they start at a different time to those who observe the new moon in another way; but much like taking heed from Mecca, visibility can be affected by clouds.
- Astronomical predictions
A handful of Muslims choose to track the moon based on lunar predictions. This gives them a more stable date that isn’t affected by cloud coverage or bad weather.
The purpose of Ramadan
During Ramadan, Muslims aim to grow spiritually and become closer to Allah and loved ones. They do this by fasting and abstaining from certain pleasures between sunrise and sunset each day. Ramadan is also a time for unity and spiritual reflection; Muslims spend time praying, reciting the Quran, and doing good deeds. They donate to charity, spend time with loved ones, and avoid lying, gossiping, and fighting.
What Does Ramadan Entail?
Many people know Ramadan as a time for fasting from sunrise to sunset, and while that’s correct, one of the lesser-known Ramadan facts is that there are other activities that must be abstained from, including gossiping, cursing, lying, and arguing! Ramadan is also a time for reciting the Qur’an, praying frequently, and working to become a better Muslim.
Zakat al-Fitrana is a compulsory payment that every Muslim must make during Ramadan, before the commencement of the first Eid prayers. All Muslims with food in excess of their needs, regardless of age, are permitted to pay. If a child cannot pay, the head of their household should pay for them. Zakat al-Fitr is not to be confused with Zakat, although the two are often paid at the same time during Ramadan.
The final Ramadan custom is Sadaqah, which is when a Muslim does any number of good deeds and expects nothing in return. Ramadan is very much a time for giving and selfless acts, which is why many do Sadaqah during it. Sadaqah can include anything from helping someone cross the street and volunteering at a soup kitchen, to picking up litter or providing aid to an elderly person.
What happens if you can’t fast?
If a Muslim is exempt from fasting, they can make up the days they miss later in the year. If they are unable to make up the days, they must pay Fidya which is a charitable donation charged by the day that is used to pay for food for someone who is hungry and does not have any. Fidya is usually less than $7USD a day, but the price fluctuates year on year depending on the price of staple foods. For example, if a Muslim was unable to fast for seven days due to traveling and Fidya is set at $7USD, they must pay $7USD for each of those days, meaning they must pay $49USD to a Fidya charity.
Marking the end of Ramadan
A special three-day festival called Eid al-Fitr (the Festival of the Breaking of the Fast) marks the end of Ramadan. It begins when the first sight of the new moon is seen in the sky. It’s a joyous occasion, with Muslims celebrating the end of fasting and giving thanks to Allah.
During the three days, Muslims attend prayers in the morning and visit loved ones and neighbors. They then enjoy a delicious traditional feast with friends and family. Children are often given presents, and it’s custom to donate to those in need. As a symbol of unity, Ramadan is a time when Muslims from all over the world come together to celebrate their faith.
Tips for teachers
Acknowledging different cultural celebrations is so important, especially in classrooms where many different ethnicities come together every day. Here are a few ways you can bring awareness to Ramadan with your students:
- Show your Muslim students you understand their faith and this vital pillar of Islam
- Teach your class about Ramadan traditions and Islam
- Show the value of connecting diversity
- Consider decorating your classroom for Ramadan
- Do Ramadan-themed activities together
- Think ahead to special events in school and plan them around Ramadan
- Avoid food-centric class events
- Think carefully before having your class fast “in solidarity”
- Reduce potentially dangerous physical activity
- Create an alternative space during lunch
- Keep an eye out for students who may need additional support