Ramadan is the name of the 9th month of the Islamic calendar, which is a lunar calendar, rather than a solar calendar which we are all used to. Muslims living in the west use the Islamic calendar to mark special religious days and festivals.
This year, Ramadan begins around 2nd April in the UK (based on the new moon being sighted), lasting 29/30 days and is immediately followed by the festival of Eid al-Fitr on 1st, 2nd or 3rd May (based on sighting of the subsequent new moon). However, exact dates may vary by a day or so from country to country and even between communities within each country. However all dates are valid for those who subscribe to them.
During Ramadan healthy adult Muslims abstain from food, drink and marital relations during the daylight hours (pre-dawn to sunset) every day. That’s right, no water allowed either!
Of course, Muslims can eat at night, so it is not continuous fasting for 24 hours every day for the whole month!
Therefore, during Ramadan, working Muslims who are fasting (whether working from home or otherwise) will not take breaks for tea/coffee and may decide to work through lunch and finish early or vary their working hours if the nature of their job allows.
Many Muslims working for the emergency services or the NHS on the front line will not be fasting if it compromises their safety and/or that of patients as they will need to stay sharp, focused and hydrated.
Children usually start trying out fasting from a young age and may fast during weekends and holidays. However, from the age of puberty it becomes compulsory so many pupils from observant families, especially those at secondary school, will be fasting.
Those who are exempt from fasting, or have an excuse not to fast, as mentioned in the Qur’an are: the sick, the elderly, those travelling and pregnant, breastfeeding or menstruating women. They can be placed into one of two categories:
1. The permanently excused- they do not fast but instead feed a poor person for every day of Ramadan
2. The temporarily excused- they may choose not to fast but would make up the days when they are able to.
The primary reason Muslims fast is because they believe it to be a command from God and it is also the 4th pillar of Islam.
The 5 Pillars of Islam are: Belief in the one God, Prayer, Charity, Fasting and Pilgrimage.
Secondly, the Qur’an states that fasting is prescribed in order for the believer to become God-conscious and to come closer to God.
It is also a time when Muslims remember that there are people who fast involuntarily all over the world due to famine and poverty and it is also a time when they realise they can control their desires and gain self-discipline and give up certain things. For example, those wishing to quit smoking realise they can because they are able to abstain from smoking during the day in Ramadan.
Fasting also helps Muslims to develop their moral character as the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon Him) urged the fasting Muslim to display noble manners and to be far from foul speech and actions, as well as rude and obscene talk.
This includes staying away from lying, cheating, backbiting and abusing others etc… Muslims are commanded to be far from these evil characteristics all the time and the forbiddance is even stronger whilst performing the obligation of fasting.
The Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon Him) said “Fasting is not (merely) abstaining from eating and drinking, rather it is (abstaining) from ignorant and indecent speech, so if anyone abuses or behaves ignorantly with you, then say: “I am fasting, I am fasting.”
Ramadan moves forward by 11 days every year in the Gregorian calendar which means that it is not fixed to a season but moves from winter to summer and back over a 33-year cycle.
Fasting starts before dawn (currently around 5.15am in the South-West at the beginning of Ramadan and 4.00am by the end – decreasing by 2 minutes per day).
Most people will wake up in order to have their pre-dawn meal which will have to last them for the whole day. The fast is then broken at sunset (around 7.45pm in the South-West at the beginning of Ramadan and 8.35pm by the end – increasing by 2 minutes per day) with a meal and many will spend the rest of the night praying special prayers through the night.
Therefore, at the start of Ramadan the fasting hours will be approx. 5.15am – 7.45pm in the South-West (5.00am-7.40pm in London) and as the days get gradually longer, by the end of Ramadan the fasting hours will be approx. 4.00am – 8.35pm (3.50am – 8.25pm in London).
Ramadan is generally a very social and community focused month as Muslims are used to breaking their fast together with friends and family at home or at the Mosque and attending the night prayers in the Mosque.
Muslims believe the Qur’an is the word of God and the last revealed Testament, sent down to the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) via the Archangel Gabriel in this month (Ramadan) and they spend extra time reading the Qur’an and trying to contemplate on its message during this month.
The end of Ramadan is marked by the festival of Eid-Ul-Fitr (the first of the two Islamic ‘Eid’ Festivals). Muslims will usually take the day off work or school (if ‘Eid happens to be in term time) to attend the mosque for prayers and to celebrate the occasion with their family and friends.
If you line-manage Muslim staff, it is best to discuss with them their specific individual needs and adjustments, as these will vary from person to person depending on their level of commitment to their faith, individual circumstances such as health conditions and so on.