Ramadan is the holiest month in the Islamic calendar, and it is expected that all able Muslims observe the Sawm (fast). There are several rules surrounding Ramadan, and we’re going to explain them here for those who do not have readily available access to Muslim community leaders to guide them through the holy month.
What is Ramadan, and what are the rules of Ramadan?
As aforementioned, Ramadan is the ninth and holiest month in the Islamic (lunar) Calendar. It is a time when Muslims observe Sawm (the Fourth Pillar of Islam). Sawm means to fast during Ramadan, and as such, all able Muslims should not eat from sunrise to sunset during the holy month of Ramadan - this is one of the most important rules of Ramadan that is observed by Muslims all over the world.
The Pillars of Islam are the core values that all Muslims should follow, meaning fasting throughout Ramadan is a key part of Islam, but it is not the only objective of the holy month. Ramadan is a time for both physical and mental cleansing to feel closer to Allah (SWT) and to become better Muslims. By following the Ramadan fasting rules, Muslims are working hard to serve Allah (SWT) better.
Muslims observe Ramadan rules because it is believed that during this time, the Qur’an was revealed to the Prophet Muhammed (PBUH). Observing Sawm and engaging in acts of cleansing and self-reflection is how Muslims thank Allah (SWT) for sharing the Qur’an, and this strengthens their bond with him.
Ramadan Eating Rules
Ramadan is a time for strengthening your connection with Allah (SWT), and there are several ways this is achieved. The first and most obvious that people are aware of is fasting from sunrise to sunset. By abstaining from eating during daylight hours, Muslims are reminded to be thankful for all that Allah (SWT) has given them and to be compassionate and empathetic to those who are less fortunate and in need. It also teaches patience and self-control.
Are there other Ramadan Rules?
During the holy month, there are several other things Muslims must refrain from. So, aside from fasting, what can’t you do during Ramadan? All impure activities and thoughts must not be entertained, meaning swearing, arguing, gossiping, smoking, sexual relations and fighting are not permitted.
Ramadan Fasting Rules
Of all the Ramadan rules, fasting is the most complex, as there are specific methods and processes that must be observed. The first thing to understand is who can fast because not all Muslims are obliged to fast due to several reasons, including health issues. All post-pubescent (adult) Muslims must fast unless they are exempt. Those who are exempt are as follows:
- Children who have not yet gone through puberty
- Those who are sick or receiving medical treatment
- Elderly Muslims who are frail
- People who are travelling
- Pregnant, breastfeeding, and menstruating women
If you fit into one of the above categories, then Ramadan fasting rules exempt you from partaking in the Sawm.
For those who are partaking, the Ramadan fasting rules are as follows:
Between sunset and sunrise, you are permitted to eat and drink. There are two main meals during this period of time, the first of which is Suhoor which is the meal before sunrise. Some Muslims choose to eat dinner-like foods for this meal, whilst others stick to more breakfast types of foods. The meal after sunset is called Iftar, and it is traditional that this meal is preceded with dates and water/milk.
During both Suhoor and Iftar, it is recommended that Muslims eat balanced, high fibre meals packed with fruits, vegetables and plenty of water for hydration.
What Happens if You Miss a Fast?
There are penalties for missing fasts during Ramadan, but the penalty you incur will depend on your circumstances. If you fall into one of the exempt groups, instead of fasting, you must pay Fidya. This is a charitable donation that is used to pay for two meals for one person every day of Ramadan (30 days). The rates of Fidya can change year on year, but it is typically less than £5 per day. Whatever the daily rate of Fidya is, you must pay 30x that amount instead of fasting. For example, if you are sick and cannot fast as per medical advice, and the Fidya amount is £5 per day, you must pay £150. If a person becomes poorly and unable to continue their fast, they must pay Fidya.
If you are deemed fit and eligible to fast (you are not listed as exempt) but you intentionally break your Ramadan fast without good reason, you must pay Kaffarah or fast for an additional 60 days. The rate of Kaffarah is the same rate as Fidya, but the penalty is doubled. For example, if you are perfectly fit and healthy but choose to eat during daylight hours without a valid reason, you can choose to either fast for an additional 60 days, or you can choose to pay Kaffarah. If Fidya is set at £5 per day, the amount of Kaffarah you must pay is £300, which will be used to pay for one person to eat two meals for 60 days.
The End of Ramadan
After 30 days, Ramadan will draw to a close. The end of Ramadan is celebrated with a three-day celebration called Eid al-Fitr. According to the rules of Ramadan, it is not permitted to fast during this time as this is a time for feasting, being with friends and family and praying.
Typically, Muslims will buy new clothes for the occasion or wear their best clothes. Gifts are exchanged, and Fitrana donations are made. Fitrana, also known as Zakat ul-Fitr, is a compulsory donation that is made so that those less fortunate can enjoy a nourishing meal and join in the festivities at the end of Ramadan. The rate of Fitrana may change year on year, but it is generally below £5. Every Muslim is required to pay Fitrana, and if a dependent cannot pay, the head of the household must pay on their behalf.
Ramadan rules state that Fitrana donations must be paid before the Eid prayers at the end of Ramadan. Lots of Muslims choose to pay Fitrana on the Night of Power, also called Laylat al-Qadar, because it is believed that the rewards for donating at this time are greater than those of a thousand months. This is based on the notion that this particular night (which falls in the last 10 days of Ramadan) was exactly when the Qur’an was revealed to the Prophet (PBUH).
There is no set a date for Ramadan because it is based on the sighting of the new crescent moon on the ninth month in the lunar calendar, which can change by roughly 10 days per year. Some Muslims choose to observe Ramadan based on solar calculations, and others choose to wait until the moon has been sighted over Mecca, whereas others choose to wait until the moon has been sighted above their local area. There is no set rule on this, and it is down to preference and the school of thought you follow.
This year, Ramadan is expected to begin around 23 March 2023.