The day before Ramadan started, we read a tweet from Belgian student Yorick Dupon, saying that he knew more Muslims this year than last year and he should probably do some research on what Ramadan means to them. So we asked him to simply send his questions over and Ibtissam Loutfi, a young Muslim woman and writer for Mvslim, would answer them from her perspective.
Yorick: What is Ramadan?
Ibtissam: First of all, I want to explain to you the meaning of the word Ramadan.
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and is better known as the fasting month. I will try to name a few reasons why. During the month of Ramadan the Quran descended, and as the Quran is our religion’s source, this can be regarded as something important or extraordinary even.
It’s also because fasting during Ramadan is one of the pillars of Islam. That means that fasting is an obligation to all Muslims who are able to do it.
Most people will think that Ramadan can be translated by fasting, but no, that’s not the case. Arabs aren’t making it easy, vocabulary wise. The word Ramadan comes from the noun Ramad, which refers to the heat of the stones, caused by the intense heat of the sun. So during this month, all your sins get burnt away. That’s another thing that makes this month as beautiful.
But okay, what does Ramadan actually imply? Most people will think that it’s only about not eating for a full day. Only, that’s not the case, there’s so much more to it. Fasting consists of abstaining from food, drinking and sexual intercourse between sunrise (Fajr prayer) and sunset (Maghreb prayer), and each one of us experiences something else as the biggest difficulty. But if I told you now that someone is fasting, thus not eating and drinking, but they are cursing all day and not committing any good deeds, then it wouldn’t sound logical to you, who doesn’t know much about Ramadan.
Only constraining of these things would be too easy. We’re also obligated to commit good deeds during Ramadan, no matter how small. It is the intention that counts. It is also strongly recommended to pray at night and to abstain from useless chatter, lies and other sins. A Muslim needs to try to do that of course, also when it isn’t Ramadan. But you should know that you get rewarded more for your good deeds and that is why it is seen as a month full of advantages.
Yorick: Why do you fast every year at a different moment?
Ibtissam: That is a good question that many people will be having. The answer is because we like to make it difficult. No actually, we’re fasting every year at the same moment: the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. The Islamic calendar consists of twelve months, just like the Christian one. But in our calendar a new month starts when a new moon is visible. That is why it shifts every year for a few days.
Yorick: Why do you guys do it?
Ibtissam: Like I’ve said in the beginning, Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam, so it is an obligation to every Muslim. There are a few exceptions of course.
Yorick: Does every Muslim have to participate in it? It just can’t be healthy for people who are ill.
Ibtissam: Of course you don’t have to do it when you’re ill! That would be just crazy. People who have diabetes for instance, don’t have to do it. Instead, they should give a daily sum of money to the poor, which is about five euros a day, the price for a mini meal to a poor person. You also aren’t obligated to do it when you’re travelling or pregnant.
Yorick: Is there a reason why you can’t eat during the day?
Ibtissam: I don’t think there is a special reason for that. I’m learning every year more about Ramadan and my religion myself as a Muslim. So I could be wrong!
Yorick: Is it me or are there more people wearing djellabas in the streets during Ramadan?
Ibtissam: It’s probably you, since there isn’t a specific Ramadan outfit really. Maybe you are just more attentive to it.
Yorick: Are the things you eat during Ramadan different from what you eat during the rest of the year?
Ibtissam: I think it depends from family to family and from country to country. But I have to say that most mums show off their best cooking skills and make typical dishes from their countries. Every country has its own specialties. We are used to breaking our fast every day with a delicious bowl of soup and dates.
Yorick: One last question, how do you wish someone good luck during Ramadan?
Ibtissam: We don’t really wish each other good luck during Ramadan. We just wish each other peace and a month full of love. I get a lot of wishes too, but most of the time it’s in Arabic, so I don’t understand much. Then I just say ameen and smile. But I guess that’s not a great help to you. If you really want to wish someone good luck, then I wouldn’t make it too hard and just wish them good luck. I think they will appreciate it, even if you keep it simple. But you can always add something personal to it, like “may Allah or God accept your fasting and forgive you for all your sins”.