I had this conversation with a co-worker on the first day of Ramadan.
Me: “I’m so thirsty.”
Co-worker: “You work at a coffee house; you have so many options of what to drink. It doesn’t make sense.”
Me: “I know, but I can’t I drink anything while the sun is still out.”
Me: “I’m fasting.”
Co-worker: “Why are you fasting?”
Me: “Because it is Ramadan and I have to fast.”
Co-worker: “what is Ramadan?”
Me: “You live in Minnesota and you don’t know what Ramadan is?”
Co-worker: “I don’t know what Ramadan is.”
Me: “How could you not know what Ramadan is?”
Co-worker: “Because I’m white.”
We both burst out laughing.
So, if someone who lives in Minnesota, a state that has the largest Somali population outside of Somalia, someone who also happened to be working in an international airport, doesn’t know about Ramadan, it is time my Minnesota folks get a little education.
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. It is in this month that the first parts of the Qur’an were revealed, and in this month Muslims are commanded to fast from sunrise to sunset. We do this as a sign of devotion. As anyone who has fasted can tell you, it isn’t an easy task. We also fast to bring ourselves closer to those that are hungry and thirsty, to learn compassion for those who don’t get to choose not to eat. Also, when we fast we find we have more to give. It is amazing how much money is left over when you don’t buy coffee and sandwiches and things during the day.
There are a few misconceptions that people have about Ramadan. Some people think we can’t eat at all for the entire 30 days. Obviously this isn’t true. We’d starve. Other people think that while we can’t eat, we can have water. This is also not true. We don’t ingest anything from sunrise to sunset, but once the sun goes down, we can eat and drink as much as we want, and some people can even overdo it.
There are also exceptions to who is required to fast, as I’ve been asked, “what if you’re sick?” or “what about children?” The elderly, children, the sick, women who are pregnant, nursing, or menstruating, and those on a (long) journey are all exempted from fasting, though some have to make up the days they miss.
There are five pillars in Islam, which define what it is to be a Muslim. They are: belief that there is no God but Allah and Mohammed is his prophet; prayer, Muslims are required to pray five times in a day, from morning to evening; charity, or zakat, to give a percentage of our wealth/income to the poor; fasting during the month of Ramadan; and pilgrimage, to make at least one trip to Mecca in our life time.
Ramadan is a month that Muslims consider holy. Every good deed one does is doubled. We are considerate of doing good, and we always want to do good, but in this month, we are especially mindful of our actions, what we do, what we say. We increase our prayer and beg Allah’s forgiveness. In this month Masjids (Mosques) are full. There is a long community prayer in the Masjid at night after we break our fast called Tarawih. Imams complete reciting the whole Qur’an in evening prayer during this month. Each night Imams and Masjid-goers stand long hours in prayer while the Imam recites part of the Qur’an.
Now, when someone tells you they’re fasting, ask them if they are Muslim, and if they are fasting because of Ramadan. (Nuns also fast and cover their hair.) If they are Muslims, you can wish them “Ramadan Mubarak,” which means “Blessed Ramadan.” See, reading this column was worth your while!
P.S. If you’d like to show your compassion for those who are hungry, click here for links to donate to help those affected by the drought in East Africa.
P.P.S. I am not a religious scholar, and any information I present is to the best of my understanding. If there is anything that is incorrect, or that I left out, feel free to let me know.