What is Ramadan - A guide for Expats?

Ramadan moonI have always loved to learn about other countries and cultures. I find it very interesting to find out what others believe and why.

For many Western Expats who are new to Jeddah, Ramadan can be a mystery. Previously I have touched on this subject in an earlier blog. In this blog, I am sharing some information that was given to my husband, by his employer. It helps to educate us on what it is all about and what to expect.  Destination Jeddah Magazine also has some excellent articles on the subject.

What is Ramadan

  • Ramadan is the ninth month of the Hijri /Islamic calendar.
  • The word Ramadan is derived from “ar-ramad” which means intense heat, dryness, scorched ground.
  • Being a lunar calendar, the Hijri calendar is 11 to 12 days shorter than Gregorian calendar, therefore Ramadan is 11 to 12 days earlier every year.
  • During the blessed month of Ramadan, Muslims all over the world abstain from food, drink, and other physical needs during the daylight hours.

 Spotting the new moon

  • Ramadan begins with the sighting of the new moon.
  • Ramadan continues until the next new moon is sighted or for a maximum of 30 days.
  • The start of Ramadan may differ from one location to another depending on confirmed sightings of the moon.

The significance of Ramadan

  • Ramadan is the month in which the Qur’an (the holy book of Islam) was revealed to the Prophet Mohammed (pbuh).
  • For all Muslims, it is a special month of fasting, repentance and increased prayer and charity.
  • The month ends with the festival of Eid Al-Fitr, a day of celebration and gratitude.

    Indeed, the month of Ramadan is when the Qur’an has been revealed, a
    guidance for mankind and a reference to the way and righteousness

The five pillars of Islam

  • Shahadah: Declaration of faith.
  • Salah: Daily (5) prayers.
  • Zakat: Purification of wealth (2.5% of annual savings go to the poor). Zakah is an Arabic word, root “zaka” means to grow, to increase, or to be pure in heart.
  • Siyam: Fasting during Ramadan is obligatory for all adult Muslims except for those made exempt by certain circumstances.
  • Hajj: Pilgrimage to Makkah - obligatory once in a lifetime for those who are physically and financially able.

Typical activities of Ramadan

  • Sahoor: Light meal before dawn and the first prayer of the day.
  • Iftar: Breaking of the fast at sunset (coincides with Maghrib, the 4th daily prayer).
  • Ziarat: Social gatherings (eg: visiting relatives, sharing food with neighbours, friends and the poor).
  • Tarawih: Optional prayers in the evening immediately after 5th prayer.
  • Qira’at: Reading of the Qur’an during free time.
  • Qiam: Optional late night prayers in the last 10 days of Ramadan.

More than two million Muslims from around the world gather at Makkah Al-Moukaramah during the last 10 days of Ramadan

 Fasting - What is it?

  • Fasting begins at the break of dawn and ends at sunset.

Physical aspects

  • Refrain from food, drink and sexual intercourse during fasting hours.
  • Depending on location and season, it can vary from 12 to 17 hours.

Spiritual aspects

  • Refrain from blameworthy thoughts and acts (such as foul language, vain talk, hurtful behaviour) at all times.

Who fasts?

  • All Muslims except children, unhealthy adults (mentally or physically), adults travelling long distances, and women who are menstruating, in post-childbirth care, pregnant or breast-feeding.

Fasting Why?

  • The primary objective of fasting is to attain taqwâ.
  • Taqwâ is the concept of “God consciousness”.
  • Taqwâ is an Arabic word that comes from “al-wiqaya” which means prevention and protection.
  • Taqwâ therefore means to be aware of God and protect yourself against diverging from the path of God.

Spiritual objectives and benefits

  • Helps Muslims draw closer to God through increased recitation and reflection of the Qur’an and additional prayers/worship.
  • Helps to increase iman (faith) and ihsan (sincerity and righteousness) and in the removal of riyya’ (showing off).
  • Aids the purification of the heart and soul and helps to improve one’s character ! Trains the person to do praiseworthy acts e.g. charity, kindness, generosity, patience and forgiveness.

Physical objectives and benefits

  • A fasting person experiences some of the hardships of the poor and hungry.
  • Physiological effects include lowering of blood sugar, cholesterol and systolic blood pressure.
  • Improves strength, endurance and self-discipline through physical abstentions.

Eid Al-Fitr

  • Eid Al-Fitr is the feast marking the end of Ramadan.
  • Zakat Al-Fitr is charity given to the poor at the end of fasting in Ramadan.
  • Eid activities include
    • Eid prayer in the early morning.
    • Visiting family, friends, neighbours, the sick and the elderly.
    • Enjoying festive meals.
    • Modest gift-giving, especially to children.
  • The greeting on that day is “Eid Mubarak”.

Travel in Ramadan

  • From the last week of Ramadan until a few days after Eid, travel to Muslim countries, and particularly to Saudi Arabia, becomes congested.
  • Flights in and out of the Gulf become especially congested during the second half of Ramadan.
  • Particularly in the last 10 days of Ramadan many Muslims travel to Makkah to make Umrah (a pilgrimage outside Hajj).
  • Local traffic congestion is common just before iftar (at sunset) and at night.

Working with your Muslim colleagues during Ramadan

  • During Ramadan try to avoid the following:
    • meetings which include lunch
    • late afternoon meetings
    • organising department parties or social events

It is a most special month in a Muslim’s calendar. The date varies each year according to the phases of the moon. This year the 6th August – 12th August is the Eid Al-Fitr vacation for most employees this year.


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