Mohammed Amin is Co-Chair of the Muslim Jewish Forum of Greater Manchester and a member of the CCJ. He writes in a personal capacity.
Unlike when I was growing up in the 1950’s, by now thanks to the media most Britons have some awareness that Ramadan is the month in which most Muslims fast. What still surprises many is that as well as not eating, fasting prohibits drinking, smoking or sexual activity, as well as avoiding sinful behaviour such as swearing.
Islam is a religion of moderation. Accordingly there are many categories of Muslim who are exempt from fasting such as children below the age of puberty, women who are menstruating, travellers over a certain distance and the ill or infirm.
Like the Jewish calendar, the Islamic calendar is lunar, but without any intercalation so Ramadan (which is the ninth month of the Islamic year) starts 10-12 days earlier each solar year. This year in the northern hemisphere it includes the longest day, which I recall last happening in the 1980’s. As fasts start at dawn and end at dusk, in London they will be about 18 hours long; even longer in northern Scotland!
Why Ramadan? The month of Ramadan is particularly holy to Muslims because it is the month in which the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) received the first revelation of part of the Quran from the archangel Gabriel. The Quran was not revealed in the order in which it is now written, and the first verses revealed were Quran 96:1-5: “Read in the name of thy Sustainer, who has created; created man out of a germ-cell! Read – for thy Sustainer is the Most Bountiful One who has taught [man] the use of the pen, taught man what he did not know!” [Muhammad Asad translation.]
There are two common Arabic language greetings used in Ramadan. “Ramadan Mubarak!” means essentially “Blessed Ramadan” or “Congratulations it’s Ramadan.” “Ramadan Kareem” means essentially “It is Ramadan the generous [month]”. In English any appropriate greeting will be welcome by your Muslim friends, such as “Have a good Ramadan.”
What are the benefits of Ramadan? While I think about God throughout the year, Ramadan encourages me to avoid all but the most essential appointments. Being retired, work does not get in the way! Much of the extra time is spent reading and reflecting about religion, and I do pray more than normal.
Some say that the hunger of fasting helps you to identify more with residents of poorer countries who have insufficient food.
Many Muslims increase their charitable giving during Ramadan, as they believe that charity receives extra spiritual rewards if given during Ramadan.
There are downsides to Ramadan. Economic productivity in Muslim majority countries plummets during Ramadan. In my twenties when I was fasting while a trainee accountant, I found my own productivity well down, and asked myself who was bearing that cost. It was obviously my employer, so from then on until I retired I chose not to fast on days when I was working. While many, perhaps most, other Muslims will disagree with that decision ultimately each of us has to make our own religious choices as individuals who are personally answerable to God.
Similarly Ramadan is associated with an increase in accidents, and I am aware of how my own concentration is affected, particularly by the lack of hydration. Accordingly if I will be driving more than a trivial distance, I do not fast.