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Intricate tile mosaics adorn the interior walls of the Alhambra´s Nasrid palaces | © MCAD Library/Flickr
Intricate tile mosaics adorn the interior walls of the Alhambra´s Nasrid palaces | © MCAD Library/Flickr
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8 Things You Need to Know About Ramadan

Picture of Amani Sharif
Freelance Writer
Updated: 31 May 2017
Ramadan is the ninth month on the Islamic calendar, a time where millions of Muslims around the world unite over one activity: fasting. During this month, people abstain from food and water from dawn to dusk. Not only that but they also refrain from smoking and other vices in favor of prayer and spirituality. Internationally, the holy month is now pretty familiar to people, but here are eight things you may still not know about Ramadan.

So what’s so special? Why Ramadan?

To Muslims, Ramadan is one of the most important months of the year, as it’s when the first verses of the Quran were revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)—specifically on a night called Laylat al-Qadr, which today is spent by Muslims in prayer. The revelation is also the catalyst for people to read as much of the Quran as they can during Ramadan. It is believed that during this holy month the gates of heaven are open and the devils are chained up; this makes Ramadan a spiritually peaceful time for Muslims.

There are different fasting hours around the world

As mentioned before, during Ramadan, people fast from sunrise until sundown. Naturally, with timezone differences and seasons, this varies across the world. For example, in Denmark the fasting time may stretch as long as 21 hours and in some countries it can be as low as 11 hours. However, Islam is a flexible religion which encourages comfort over resentment. This prompted some scholars to decree that following Mecca’s fasting time would suffice in countries where hours are extremely long.

In the UAE, food kiosks close during the day

In malls, during Ramadan food kiosks like Cinnabon and Krispy Kreme will close until iftar time. This is prompted by the government’s request that non-Muslims respect those who are fasting. Watching people eat and drink can be too tempting! Restaurants, on the other hand, remain open and serve food behind screens which are then moved away when iftar comes round.

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque | © Andrew Moore/ Flickr

Fasting holds a lot of health benefits

In addition to testing the limits of your self-control, fasting has been proven to turn our body into a powerhouse. Fasting lowers the body’s bad cholesterol (LDL) levels and raises good (HDL) ones. To a lot of people, the fast is also a chance to break addictions like smoking tobacco or shisha and even eating sugar or junk food. If you eat a healthy diet the month’s fast will guarantee weight loss so avoid those Arabic sweets!

Iftar traditions vary according to country

Iftar traditions vary between different countries and even different households. In some countries iftar is hosted at an elder’s home (usually a grandparent or old uncle) while in others it is a small family affair that’s simply a delayed lunch. In some countries such as the UAE, iftar is a feast with several courses while in others it is a simple meal. Ramadan is definitely the month to visit Islamic countries as you’ll get to know varying traditions in each.

Not all those who fast are Muslims

With the recent rise in curiosity about Islam and with the publication of studies regarding the benefits of fasting, many non-Muslims are trying their hand at fasting. Many simply would like to experience the month with their friends and enjoy the cultural aspects. There is nothing insensitive about trying out fasting if you’re not Muslim. If anything your Muslim friend would be happy to help! Don’t hesitate to attempt a fast as it is an experience you won’t receive from anything else.

Ramadan has its own fashion scene

In some countries Ramadan only comes with a change in eating habits, but in others it is a month that changes lifestyles. A lot of Muslim women tend to wear more modest clothing during Ramadan, some even switch to wearing abayas and kaftans for the whole month. Naturally this has meant a boom in business for modest clothing designers across the world! This is emphasized by the Taraweeh prayer—which is when Muslims pray in the Mosque after iftar and are in need of abayas and prayer clothes.

Ramadan has its own TV schedule

Being a family-oriented month, Ramadan means late nights with extended family. For a lot of people this time is spent watching TV and so for Arab networks, Ramadan has become an pivotal time for scheduling shows. Networks know programmes broadcast at this time will receive high ratings and every year a line up of programmes with the best casts are filmed for Ramadan time. From prank reels to dramas, there is no shortage of entertainment for everyone.

Don’t hesitate to visit Islamic countries during this holy month and watch cities come alive at sundown. Take in the Islamic spirituality and celebrations as this is one month you don’t want to miss out on.