Ramadan begins: What does fasting mean in Islam?

By Oula Mahfouz

This year, Ramadan begins on Friday, April 24, and continues until May 23. This date is determined by some Muslim countries and organizations through astronomical calculations, while others rely on seeing the crescent of Ramadan in the sky with the naked eye on the Thursday before.

The month of Ramadan has a special meaning for Muslims and they consider it a month of closeness to God and intensify their worship, since fasting, along with Salat (prayer), Zakat (alms), Haj (pilgrimage) and Shahada (creed), is one of the five pillars of Islam. Festive rituals are performed in the houses and streets of the Muslim countries, and people congratulate each other with the words “Ramadan Mubarak”. Fasting increases family loyalty because all family members eat at the same time.

The fasting person refrains from eating, drinking, sexual intercourse or smoking, and for a whole lunar month (Ramadan) none of it enters their bodies from sunrise to sunset. The goal of fasting is not to suffer from hunger and thirst, but to approach God and recognize the daily waste of the individual and give alms to those who need it. It means not only not eating and drinking, but also not insulting others, not arguing with anyone and avoiding lustful thoughts. It is important that fasting also helps develop good behavior this month. Fasting is a must for a healthy person. Children, pregnant women, breastfeeding women, menstruating women, travelers and the elderly should not fast.

There are usually two meals: “Suhoor” before sunrise and “Iftar” after sunset. People are usually interested in eating certain types of foods that support and facilitate the fasting process, such as dates and certain drinks such as hibiscus, licorice, and tamarind. Daily fasting in Germany lasts about 17 hours this year, in Syria, for example, only 15 hours because the days there are shorter.

Fasting is a phenomenon that runs through almost all religions and religious communities in the world. Buddhists as well as Hindus, Jews and Christians know and practice it. And with all religions, fasting aims to purify and refine the soul and discipline the body. Fasting is considered the purest religious ritual and is far from hypocrisy because it is not an “act” but a “cessation”: things that give pleasure, such as eating and drinking, are omitted and one should be patient instead.

There are also personal or political motives for fasting. For example, as a kind of strike or protest in order to meet certain demands. Or health-related: clinics for therapeutic fasting are now spreading all over the world, which usually proves to be very beneficial for the health of the person fasting.


Impressionen zum Leben in Zeiten der Corona-Pandemie: Foto: tünews INTERNATIONAL; Oula Mahfouz, 15.04.2020

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