Campus News

Understanding Ramadan with UK's Syed Ali

ramadan celebration
As the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, Muslims believe Ramadan is about connecting with God and their communities. Baramyou0708 | iStock/Getty Images

LEXINGTON, Ky. (March 24, 2023) — For many worldwide, the Islamic month of Ramadan is associated only with fasting and prayer. But it is about so much more, especially for some faculty, staff and students here at the University of Kentucky.  

As the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, Muslims believe Ramadan is about connecting with God and their communities. It is believed that the Quran was first sent down to Muhammad during this month as guidance for all people, providing the definition of right and wrong.

And because of this deep meaning, Muslims honor the month — which began the evening of Wednesday, March 22, and ends the evening of Friday, April 21 — in a number of ways. Yes, fasting and prayer will be practiced, as will the striving to avoid impure thoughts or immoral behavior.

It is a special time, but also one that can be misunderstood. For clarity and enlightenment, Syed Ali, M.D., associate professor of anesthesiology in the UK College of Medicine and chair of UK’s Faculty and Staff Muslim Affinity Group, answers common questions about the observance.

What can you add to our description of Ramadan? Have we accurately described it?

Ali: I think we can highlight that during this holy month, all able-bodied adults, and older children fast from dawn until sunset and abstain from food, water, and other physical needs, as well as the striving to avoid impure thoughts or immoral behavior during the daylight hours. The fast is broken each evening with a meal known as iftar. This annual observance is an important time for spiritual reflection, self-discipline, and increased devotion to God.

What challenges might come to those who observe Ramadan?

Ali: Here are some common challenges that people may face while observing Ramadan:

  • Fasting: Although those who are medically incapable of fasting are exempted from observing the fasts, it can be challenging even for those who are not habituated and fear to carry out their daily activities.
  • Staying hydrated
  • Social obligations: Fasting can make it difficult to participate in social events that revolve around food and drink. This can be challenging for those who are accustomed to socializing during mealtimes.
  • Lack of sleep: Engaging in spiritual activities by staying up late and waking up early in the morning to eat before the fast begins, can result in sleep deprivation and fatigue.
  • Maintaining focus: With reduced energy levels and hunger pangs, it can be difficult for many people at work to maintain focus and productivity throughout the day, until they are settled in for this new phase.

It is important to note that while these challenges may exist, many people find Ramadan to be a deeply rewarding and spiritually enriching experience. With proper preparation and support from family and community, many of these challenges are overcome.

What are the range of observances that we might see from those who observe? Is there any flexibility within the rules? For instance, at times of particular external situations?

Ali: Ramadan is observed by Muslims worldwide. The range of observances during Ramadan can vary based on cultural and individual practices, but here are some common observances that one might see:

  • Fasting: The most well-known practice during Ramadan is fasting, which involves abstaining from food and drink from dawn until sunset, as well as immoral behavior.
  • Prayer: Muslims increase their prayers during Ramadan, with many attending special congregational prayers at night called Taraweeh.
  • Quranic recitation: Many Muslims aim to read the entire Quran during Ramadan at least once, or at least a significant portion of it.
  • Charitable giving: Ramadan is also a time for increased charitable giving, with many Muslims donating to charitable organizations or individuals in need.
  • Breaking the fast: Muslims typically break their fast collectively, with dates and water, followed by a short meal called Iftar. This meal is often a communal gathering with family and friends.
  • Increased spiritual reflection: Many Muslims use Ramadan as a time for increased spiritual reflection, self-improvement, and a deeper connection with God.
  • Eid ul-Fitr: The end of Ramadan is marked by a “thanksgiving” celebration called Eid ul-Fitr, which includes prayer, food, and festivities.

Yes, there is some flexibility within the rules of Ramadan observance for individuals who are facing external situations. While the observance of Ramadan is a religious obligation for Muslims who are physically and mentally able to fast, there are certain circumstances in which exemptions may apply. For example, those who are traveling, pregnant, nursing, or have a medical condition that prevents them from fasting may be exempt from fasting. In such cases, they may either make up for the missed fasts at a later time or provide compensation by feeding a needy person for each missed day.

The rules of Ramadan observance are intended to accommodate individuals who are facing circumstances, and it’s always best to consult with a religious authority or a healthcare professional for guidance on how to properly observe Ramadan while prioritizing one’s health and wellbeing.

How can we, as faculty, staff and students, best support those who are observing Ramadan?

Ali: As faculty, staff, and students, we can best support those who are observing Ramadan by showing empathy, respect, and understanding for their religious beliefs and practices. Here are a few practical ways to support them:

  • Be aware of the dates of fasting: The month of Ramadan follows the Islamic calendar which is lunar based; therefore, the dates vary each year. Familiarize yourself with the dates of Ramadan so that you can plan accordingly.
  • Respect fasting: Be respectful of their decision to fast and try to avoid scheduling events or meetings during mealtimes.
  • Provide accommodations: If possible, provide accommodations for those who are fasting, such as a private space to pray or a designated area for breaking the fast.
  • Offer moral support: Offer support to those who are observing Ramadan by expressing your appreciation for their commitment to their faith and asking if there is anything you can do to help them during this time.
  • Be flexible: Muslims who are observing Ramadan may need to adjust their schedules to accommodate their religious obligations. Be flexible and accommodating, if possible.
  • Be mindful of cultural sensitivity: Avoid making assumptions about those who are observing Ramadan. Ask questions and learn about their traditions and customs.

Remember, the most important thing you can do to support those who are observing Ramadan is to be respectful and understanding of their religious beliefs and practices.

Is there anything else we need to say to inform, or to clarify anything about this special time? Have we forgotten anything?

Ali: As health care providers, it is important to work on our Muslim patients and coworkers during the month of Ramadan. We can provide guidance on healthy eating habits during non-fasting hours and advise on medication and treatment management. It is also essential to respect and support our patients' religious practices during this season.

Culturally, Muslims may be greeted on the occasions of onset of Ramadan as well as at the end of it. In the beginning of the month the usual greeting is “Ramadan Mubarak” [Blessed Ramadan], or “Ramadan Kareem” [Generous Ramadan]. At the end of the Ramadan, marked as a festive celebration called as Eid ul-Fitr, or Feast of Fast-Breaking, people exchange greetings by saying “Eid Mubarak” or “Happy/Blessed Eid!”

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