Ramadan Rules

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Ramadan Rules

Ramadan is a period of obligatory fasting in commemoration of Muhammad's receipt of God's revelation. Throughout the month, all but the sick and the weak, pregnant or lactating women, soldiers on duty, travelers on necessary journeys, and young children are enjoined from eating, drinking, smoking, or sexual intercourse during the daylight hours. Those adults excused are obliged to endure an equivalent fast at their earliest opportunity. A festive meal breaks the daily fast and inaugurates a night of feasting and celebration. The pious well-to-do usually do little or no work during this period, and some businesses close for all or part of the day. Because the months of the lunar year revolve through the solar year, Ramadan falls earlier in the solar year each successive year. A considerable test of discipline at any time of the year, a fast that falls in summer imposes severe hardship on those who must do physical work. [Source: Helen Chapin Metz, Persian Gulf States: A Country Study, Library of Congress, 1993 *]

During Ramadan Muslim are expected to refrain from drinking (even a sip of water), eating (even potato chip crumbs), smoking and having sex. They can't even swallow their own saliva. Gum is out as are aspirin and injections or any other medicine unless they are needed for a life-threatening condition. Muslims are also advised not brush their teeth while fasting, lest any toothpaste accidentally dribble down their throat. The use of eye drops and eardrops are okay because they don't end up in the stomach. During Ramadan, many men say they have a more difficult time trying to go through the day without any cigarettes than without food.

Jennifer Williams wrote in Vox: “During Ramadan, Muslims abstain from eating any food, drinking any liquids, smoking cigarettes, and engaging in any sexual activity, from sunrise to sunset. That includes taking medication (even if you swallow a pill dry, without drinking any water). Chewing gum is also prohibited. Doing any of those things "invalidates" your fast for the day, and you just start over the next day. To make up for days you didn't fast, you can either fast later in the year (either all at once or a day here and there) or provide a meal to a needy person for each day you missed. [Source: Jennifer Williams, Vox, June 7, 2016]

In many Muslim countries, offices are required by law to reduce working hours and most restaurants are closed during daylight hours. In some Muslim countries, it is a crime to eat and drink in public during the day in the month of Ramadan, even if you're not Muslim.

Websites and Resources: Islam IslamOnline islamonline.net ; Institute for Social Policy and Understanding ispu.org; Islam.com islam.com ; Islamic City islamicity.com ; BBC article bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/islam ; University of Southern California Compendium of Muslim Texts web.archive.org ; Encyclopædia Britannica article on Islam britannica.com ; Islam at Project Gutenberg gutenberg.org ; Muslims: PBS Frontline documentary pbs.org frontline

Ramadan Duties

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In the Qur’an, Muhammad commands: “O believers, fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may be conscious of God.” Ramadan’s name is taken from the Arabic word for “great heat.” It is not meant to be a time of penitence but rather a time of religion awakening, Esham A Hassaball wrote in the Chicago Tribune: “I take the opportunity of Ramadan to try to correct my character flaws, increase my acts of spiritual devotions, and improve myself through other spiritual projects.”

In addition to fasting the faithful are encouraged to perform special congregational prayers at their local mosque, where Muslims often gather to break the fast together and recite passages from the Qur’an. It is also important to recognize the poor, either by giving charity to the poor or providing food for them. Muslims often give their obligatory zakat payments during Ramadan and an additional “fasting charity” of at least $10 perf family member before the end of the month. Many Muslim believe that whatever charity , prayer or good deed you give you will be rewarded with one that is 70 times greater. By experiencing suffering through fasting one is expected to have more empathy for the poor and feel more willing to provide charity.

Ramadan is supposed to be a time of peace and compassion but some jihadists advocate that it is an ideal time to launch attacks, saying that the end of the of Ramadan fast is a particularly auspicious time for a martyr to enter paradise because the gates of hell are shut. Throughout their history, Muslims have scored important victories during Ramadan and launched offensives against non-Muslims and Muslims. Iran and Iraq fought, Egypt and Syria launched their offensive against Israel in 1973 and Palestinians kept up their “intifada “ during Ramadan. Muhammad himself began preparations for the Battle of Badr on the 10th day of Ramadan.

Ramadan Etiquette: Guide for Non-Muslims

If you are a non-Muslim and are with a Muslim person during Ramadan, it is considered inconsiderate to eat, drink or smoke in front of them. During Ramadan tea shops and restaurants are often closed during the day, but reopen at night. You can often find a shop that is open though. Even so it is good idea to buy food the evening before the day you need it. If you buy food during day at a shop don’t eat where people can see you. Eat in the privacy of your room.

What if you are a non-Muslim who has to interact with friends or colleagues who are keeping their fast? How do you come across as sensitive to their efforts and show respect for their religious practices? IBTimes UK lists some basic etiquette guidelines to follow when interacting with practicing Muslims during Ramadan. [Source: Lara Rebello, International Business Times, June 6, 2016]

“1) It's OK to eat in front of Muslims: Muslims have been practicing their Ramadan fast since puberty so they know how to manage their food cravings and thirst. Most don't get offended if you eat food or drink in front of them, so go ahead with your meal. Coffee, lunch and dinner meetings are still going to happen during Ramadan, so non-Muslims should not feel awkward about dining across from people who are not eating. However, if possible, it would be respectable to plan meetings outside of a meal... after all fasting is still very challenging.

2) Join for an Iftar meal: At sunset, Muslims break their fast and indulge in an Iftar meal. Don't feel shy about joining in. The community will be welcoming and the food is a delicious mix of fruits, dates and other delicacies.

3) Understand that fasting is tiring: Most Muslims in the northern hemisphere will be fasting for 16 to 19 hours of the day, thanks to summer. They will then spend the night breaking their fast and attending prayer services before waking up before sunrise to eat before their period of abstinence begins again. This schedule for a whole month can be very draining, so try to be accommodating of your Muslim juniors and colleagues. If possible, allow them to leave work early in order to break their fast or try assigning them work that won't be too physically exhausting. Most will prefer to make up the hours by coming in to work early.

4) Halitosis: Not eating food or drinking water can leave people with really bad breath. This is why most Muslims will stand further away from you than normal, while in a conversation. Understand that it's for your benefit and not theirs.

5) Ramadan fasting is not for weight loss: Refrain from making insensitive statements about how fasting must be a great way to lose those extra kilos. It's hard work and is meant to be for a religious purpose, not a slimmer waistline.

How a Muslim Expects to Be Treated by Non-Muslims During Ramadan

Busy nighttime streets in
Jerusalem's Muslim quarter
Jennifer Williams wrote in Vox: “I've had friends and co-workers who have chosen to fast along with me out of solidarity (or just because it seems "fun"), and that was sweet of them, but it's not something I ever expected people to do. (Plus, they usually last about four days before they decide solidarity is overrated and being thirsty for 15 hours is not even remotely "fun.") [Source: Jennifer Williams, Vox, June 7, 2016 ^/^]

“All that said, there are things you can do — and not do — to make things a little easier for friends or colleagues who happen to be fasting for Ramadan. If you share an office with someone fasting, maybe eat your delicious, juicy cheeseburger in the office break room rather than at your desk, where your poor, suffering Muslim co-workers will have to smell it and salivate (if they even have enough moisture left in their bodies to salivate at that point).^/^

“Try to remember not to offer them a bite or a sip of what you're eating, because it's sometimes hard for us to remember that we're fasting and easy to absentmindedly accept and eat that Lay's potato chip you just offered us. But if you do, it's okay. We're not going to get mad or be offended (unless you're doing it on purpose, in which case, what is wrong with you?). ^/^

“If you're having a dinner party and you want to invite your Muslim friends, try to schedule it after sunset so they can eat. Muslims don't drink alcohol or eat pork, but we usually don't mind being around it. (Contrary to popular belief, we are not scared of or allergic to pork; we just don't eat it. It's not like we're vampires and pork is garlic.) But do let us know if there's alcohol or pork in something so we don't accidentally eat it. ^/^

If you want to wish your Muslim friends or acquaintances a happy Ramadan, you're welcome to just say, "Happy Ramadan!" That's not offensive or anything. But if you want to show them you made an effort to learn more about their religion, the standard Ramadan greetings are "Ramadan kareem" (which means "have a generous Ramadan") or "Ramadan mubarak" (which means "have a blessed Ramadan"). Even something as simple as learning one of those expressions and saying it with a smile to your Muslim friends will go a long way toward making them feel comfortable and welcome.” ^/^

Ramadan Rules on Medicines

Professor Saghir Akhtar wrote for the BBC: “An example where alternative routes of drug administration may help fasting patients is the use of transdermal (skin) patches. For example some patients suffering from mild forms of angina pectoris, a heart condition, could benefit from taking their medication, glyceryl trinitrate, as a skin patch rather than sub-lingual tablets. Here, the drug would be effective by entering the blood stream through the skin, and not orally (which would break the fast). Again, this may only be possible in specific patients and needs to be discussed with the patient's doctor. Pharmacists are generally willing to advise patients on the availability of alternative dosage forms for medication during Ramadan. [Source: Saghir Akhtar, BBC, July 5, 2011 |::|]

“An example of where sustained release formulations may help is that of the fasting patients suffering from mild forms of hypertension (high blood pressure). These patients can be given their drug in formulations that only require once-daily dosing. Here the drug can be administered orally at Sahur and the special formulation then allows the drug to slowly release into the body over a day. In fact, there is a school of thought among medical practitioners that those patients who have mild to moderate high blood pressure and are also overweight should be encouraged to fast as fasting may help to lower their blood pressure. Such patients should see their physician to adjust medication. For example, the dose of diuretics should be reduced to avoid dehydration, and sustained release formulations such as Inderal LA can be given once a day before the pre-dawn meal. |::|

"An increasing case where practitioners are likely to advise patients on fasting is in those suffering from Diabetes mellitus. Many Muslims, especially of Asian descent, have an increased risk of suffering from some form of diabetes. The International Journal of Ramadan Fasting Research has suggested the following guidelines for health professionals treating Muslim patients with diabetes: "Diabetic patients who are controlled by diet alone can fast and hopefully, with weight reduction, their diabetes may even be improved. Diabetics who are taking oral hypoglycaemic agents along with the dietary control should exercise extreme caution if they decide to fast. These patients should consult their medical doctor for dose adjustment. If they develop low blood sugar symptoms in the daytime, they should end the fast immediately." |::|

“In addition, diabetics taking insulin should consult their doctor to see if their dose can be adjusted for them to fast during Ramadan. In all cases of Muslim diabetics fasting, they should closely monitor their blood sugar levels especially before and after meals. |::|

“In summary, Islam offers an exemption to the sick from observing their fast during the holy month of Ramadan. However, some patients may be able to fast if their health is not adversely affected during the period of fasting. In such cases, advice from pharmacists and doctors about changing prescriptions to equally effective drugs that have reduced dosing, such as sustained release formulations, may be beneficial to the fasting Muslim. In all cases of illness, it is recommended that Muslim patients, if they do fast, do so under medical supervision.

Menstruation During Ramadan

Antonia Blumberg wrote in the The Huffington Post: “The first time 19-year-old Zoha Qamar went to Friday prayers during her period, the mosque was packed. She had learned from a young age that menstruating women aren’t supposed to pray, as dictated by Islamic law and custom. Typically, they would shuffle to the back of the women’s section when the call to prayer began, removing themselves from the area designated for prayer. But on this particularly day, Qamar said, the mosque was so full that even the back had to be occupied by praying women. There came a point when I had to leave the room because it was so crowded,” Qamar told The Huffington Post. “The fact that there wasn’t even space for me to observe was heartbreaking and hard for me to digest as a 12-year-old.” [Source: Antonia Blumberg Associate Religion Editor, The Huffington Post, June 24, 2016]

“During their periods, Muslim women aren’t supposed to pray, have sex or fast for Ramadan. Rules for menstruating women take on special significance during Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting and prayer. Not just restricted from praying, women on their periods are also excused from fasting during the days of their menses.

“There is no line in the Quran that directly says menstruating women cannot pray or fast, though there is a verse that prohibits having sex during a woman’s period at any point in the year. But Muslim researcher Donna Auston said the rule doesn’t “come out of nowhere.” Usually the Quran contains a general commandment, and then it’s almost always the case that the specific details of what that entails and how to handle it is generally contained in the hadith,” Auston said. Between those two sources primarily, Islamic jurists “extrapolate,” she said, to determine rules and customs. And rules surrounding menstruation aren’t unique to Islam, she noted. In strict interpretations of Judaism, women who are bleeding due to menstruation, miscarriage or after giving birth aren’t supposed to touch or sleep with their spouses. And they are expected to “purify” themselves with a ritual bath at the end of their menstrual cycle. /*\

“On another level, Auston added, both fasting and menstruating can be physically challenging. The rule is partly in place, she said, to ensure that women’s bodies aren’t unduly taxed. “I’m physically depleted when I menstruate,” Auston said. “I suffer from iron deficiency, especially while I’m menstruating, so not having to fast when I’m already physically depleted is something that I regard as a mercy.” The break from fasting may be a ‘God-given right,’ but there’s still a stigma. /*\

“Amani Al-Khatahtbeh, founder and editor-in-chief of media outlet MuslimGirl, takes a similar view on the restrictions for menstruating women during Ramadan Auston expressed. “It’s nothing to be ashamed of,” she told HuffPost, “because it’s halal,” or lawful. It should be viewed less as a prohibition, she said, and more as a welcome break.”/*\

Cleanliness, Menstruation and Ramadan

“Antonia Blumberg wrote in the The Huffington Post: “Hygiene plays a prominent role in Islam year round, though certain rituals of purification may be tied to specific events like Ramadan. One collection of hadith, or sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, called Sahih Muslim, states that “cleanliness is half the faith.” A long list of rules on cleanliness and purification are described in the Quran and hadith and covered at length by Islamic jurists. These rules range from how to wash after using the toilet to how a man must trim his beard. [Source: Antonia Blumberg Associate Religion Editor,The Huffington Post, June 24, 2016 /*]

“There are also acts of purification observant Muslims do after sexual intercourse and during menstruation. “These things constitute a type of transgression against a state of purity,” Auston told HuffPost. “Menstruation and how it’s handled exists within that context.” But the concept of “transgression” shouldn’t be looked down upon, Auston said. “Going to the bathroom, having sex, menstruating, bleeding, vomiting — these are all basic biological functions that don’t have an assigned value as good or bad,” she said. “They’re just things that happen to people, and when they do, there are measures that have to do with ensuring cleanliness.” /*\

“Where Muslims draw the line on cleanliness can seem random, Qamar said. Some wash so thoroughly before prayers that the mosque’s bathrooms are covered in water but then refrain from brushing their teeth in fear the toothpaste would break their fast.

Menstruation, Male Domination and Ramadan

Antonia Blumberg wrote in the The Huffington Post: “Qamar rejected this explanation, however, saying even scholarly interpretations “come from very gendered perspectives of probably male scholars.” But for Auston, there isn’t a hidden narrative of women’s oppression behind the rule. “Most women I know are not peeved about it,” she said. “It’s just part of the hygiene regimen.” Not having to fast when I’m already physically depleted is something that I regard as a mercy.” [Source: Antonia Blumberg Associate Religion Editor,The Huffington Post, June 24, 2016] /*\

“But even in the context of God’s “mercy,” as Auston described it, a stigma remains. Joining menstruating women in abstaining from fasting and prayers are those who are ill, elderly, pregnant, breastfeeding, and traveling. In this context, Qamar said, the restriction on menstruating women seems to imply physical incapacity. “Some say that not fasting during your period is this gift from God,” she said, “but the reality is that not fasting is associated with weakness or inability.” /*\

“Al-Khatahtbeh echoed that there may a perception of weakness toward women who aren’t fasting or praying because they are menstruating. “There’s a stigma around it, unfortunately, that a woman is not practicing her religion even if it’s her God-given right because she’s menstruating. I think it’s very sexist.” /*\

“It’s nothing to be ashamed of because it’s halal. Qamar related the prohibitions around menstruation to larger policing of the female body in some Muslim communities, saying she’s been told things like, “Your butt is protruding too much,” even within the women’s section of the mosque. “Growing up a lot of the time there was this idea that a woman has to cover her body because it’s distracting. That can generate self-hatred,” she told HuffPost. /*\

“Many Muslim women of course choose to cover themselves as part of their personal relationship to God, but for Qamar the pressure to do so within the mosque caused her to feel like something was wrong with her body. This sense of women’s bodies being on display is something that can be exacerbated during menstruation. And it isn’t just about women excusing themselves from prayers, Al-Khatahtbeh said. /*\

“There’s a common belief, for instance, that nail polish acts a barrier during the ritual cleansing Muslims do before prayers. Some believe that the water won’t actually reach the nail with the polish in the way, thus making the ablution invalid. “Some people joke that if a woman is wearing nail polish, then she must be menstruating,” Al-Khatahtbeh said. “It’s interesting but also sad how there’s this public fascination with a woman’s practice in that regard.”

Perceptions About Menstruation and Ramadan

“Antonia Blumberg wrote in the The Huffington Post: “For some teenage girls, Qamar noted, this feeling of visibility is particularly excruciating. “A couple times I got my period during Ramadan I still didn’t eat at school because I didn’t want to explain to people who knew I was Muslim,” she said. “When you’re 13 you don’t exactly want to tell your class you’re on your period.” [Source: Antonia Blumberg Associate Religion Editor,The Huffington Post, June 24, 2016] /*\

“Auston suggested that this anxiety over menstruation fades with age and isn’t unique to the setting of Ramadan. “There’s self-consciousness about the whole process when you’re still kind of new at it,” she said. “We all grapple with that no matter what the setting.” Confronting the fear of missing out.

“Self-consciousness aside, there’s another concern that plagues some Muslim women during Ramadan: That they will miss out on the holy time when and if they get their period. Ramadan entails a lot more than just fasting, much of which centers around the community as people come together to pray, break their fast and commiserate about the challenges of fasting. “For many Muslim women there’s a sadness that comes from not being able to worship to the full extent that they eagerly want to,” Al-Khatahtbeh said. /*\

“One of Al-Khatahtbeh’s first articles on MuslimGirl back in 2009 was about menstruation, called “Coping with your Period During Ramadan.” It served as a guide for Muslim women to remain connected to their spirituality even if they couldn’t fast for several days during the holy month. “Just because they aren’t able to fast or pray doesn’t mean they’re going to be disengaged from the spirit of Ramadan,” Al-Khatahtbeh told HuffPost. “There are so many other practices of worship, like reciting the Quran, going to social events, and going to the mosque.”/*\

“Auston echoed that menstruating women can stay engaged by performing general supplication, a form of prayer that isn’t prohibited, and reading from the Quran, though interpretations vary over whether this is permitted. “There are so many different ways that people can seek God’s pleasure,” she said. /*\

“To observe or not to observe: HuffPost posed a question to Qamar, whose frustration around the restriction for menstruating women recently led her to pen a blog called “Menstruate and Self-Hate.” If it bothered her to such a degree, then why follow the rule at all? Who would know she was menstruating if she chose to fast and pray during Ramadan? Qamar laughed and admitted she’d asked herself that question, too. But she said the answer wasn’t as simple as it might seem. Instead of leading her away from observance, her concerns have led her deeper into her faith, she said, inspiring her to seek out answers. “My failure to abide by the checklist of ‘good Muslim girl’ is what propels me to remain vigilant about my religion and keep exploring for my own,” she told HuffPost. “Those thoughts of ‘why don’t I just pray’ are the ones that have led me to do my own research and think more deeply. It has prompted me to try to explore my faith more, which has actually helped me come to terms with having a period, in general.” /*\

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons except Do's and Don'ts list qsaudi; diabetes chart, diabetes.uk; menstruation chart, Everything Nisa

Text Sources: Internet Islamic History Sourcebook: sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Arab News, Jeddah; “Islam, a Short History” by Karen Armstrong; “A History of the Arab Peoples” by Albert Hourani (Faber and Faber, 1991); “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); Metropolitan Museum of Art, Encyclopedia.com, National Geographic, BBC, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, The Guardian, Al Jazeera, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Library of Congress and various books and other publications.

Last updated April 2024

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