BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.

13 November 2014

BBC Homepage

Local BBC Sites

Neighbouring Sites

Related BBC Sites

Contact Us


You are in: Birmingham > Faith > Features > An Idiot's Guide to Ramadan

Adam Yosef

Adam Yosef

An Idiot's Guide to Ramadan

Lots of frequently asked questions answered by Adam, about the most important event in the Islamic calendar.

Ramadan, What does this mean?

Ramadan is the 9th month of the Islamic calendar.  It's when Muslims all over the world spend 30 days observing fast and bettering themselves in principles of faith.

Observing fast?  Is that something to do with running, then?


Oh, what is it then?

Observing fast, or fasting, is when a person abstains (or keeps away) from eating and drinking.

What, you don't eat or drink anything?  Don't you get hungry?  I know I would.

Yes, that's the idea.  We fast for 30 consecutive days during the month of Ramadan.

30 days?  No one can go 30 days without food and drink-or can they?

No, that's right, which is why Muslims only fast during daylight hours.  Once the fast for each day ends, they are allowed to eat again.

Adam: "What, no food?  Not even an apple?"

Adam: What, no food? Not even an apple?

Then, what's the point of fasting?

The reason Muslims fast is to discipline their body and mind.  The absence of food and drink and other pleasures provides a perfect opportunity to concentrate on prayer and worship.  Not having the luxuries of life to hand makes it easier to reflect on life and be grateful for what we do have.  Muslims use this month to start afresh and give their life a new direction?

What kind of direction?

Many Muslims use Ramadan to make resolutions, similar to New Year's resolutions.  It is a time when they decide how they want to live their life for the next year and try  their very best to adhere to their new commitments.


Yes, like greater commitment to God and faith.  Ramadan is a time when Muslims can introduce practices into their life to reflect their religious identity.  A lot of Muslims have a desire to pray more and learn more about Islam.  Others wish to be better and nicer people while some want to learn Qur'anic Arabic to better their understanding of the Holy Book.  For these people, Ramadan is the best opportunity to begin this grand affair with something so personal and spiritually enlightening.

Can't they do it at any other time... why Ramadan?

Ramadan is a blessed month ordained by God.  It is the month in which Satan
and his minions are said to be locked away in Hell to prevent them from misleading, deceiving and whispering in the ears of believers. 

This doesn't mean that sin and bad deeds will completely disappear for a month but it
will mean that if bad deeds are done and sins committed, they will be from the hearts of people alone and the devil cannot be blamed. 

"Sorry, no music and movies for a month"

Adam: Sorry, no music and movies

However, God has promised the people that the reward for good deeds and actions during the holy month will be multiplied greater than usual and this encourages many to increase their level of worship and prayer.  Although, this also applies to sins and so any naughty actions only invite greater punishment than usual.

Ramadan does make it easier for Muslims to observe their faith though, largely because all Muslims are following the same pattern and so they are always offering each other moral support and encouraging each other to do better.  Ramadan brings people much closer than normal as they forgive each other for any misdemeanours of the past, forge new and positive relationships and treat each other with greater respect.

What else do Muslims do in Ramadan?

Well, aside from fasting, they pray more.  Muslims should pray five times a day anyway and go to the mosque but many find this difficult so Ramadan helps them to fulfill these practices and in many cases, stick to them long after Ramadan is over.  Muslims also read the Qur'an more and understand and share their religious teachings.  They also learn to abstain from bad habits and minor and major sins and hopefully continue with the effort when Ramadan is over too.

What kind of bad habits are we talking about?

Many people are always trying to give up things that they know are bad for them or things that make God angry.  These are usually things that are not good for people and not good for those around them and so people use Ramadan as the time to drop these ills.  It is debatable as to what is considered a bad habit or deed but because Ramadan is observed as a religious obligation, most use religious teachings to determine what is right and what is wrong.

So, what's the really bad stuff then?

A number of things.  Practices like smoking, swearing, drinking alcohol and abusing drugs, treating people with disrespect and being mean, harming or hurting living things, being cruel, un-courteous and selfish.  There's a whole host of things, many of them universally accepted as 'unhealthy'.

Adam: "It's the Kaa'ba!"

Adam: It's the Kaa'ba!

What else is banned during Ramadan?

For Muslims, some things are prohibited all the time, not just in Ramadan but if abstinence isn't being observed, Ramadan is a good time to start or try and implement change in life.  Other things are allowed but should be reduced in Ramadan to make more time for prayer and worship.  This could be things like watching
television, playing board games, spending too much time dressing up, listening to  music, shopping and messing around with mates and so on.

I heard you can't have sex in Ramadan, is this true?

Sex is allowed in Ramadan but not during the fast.  Just like food and drink, a person's natural needs must be fulfilled.  Muslims are normally allowed to eat, drink and have sexual relations so this would be the case in Ramadan but not during the fast when all must be avoided or they could nulify the fast.  When the fast is over for the day, those things that are halal (lawful) may continue but more time should still be spent on worship. 

However, Islam doesn't allow extra-marital relationships so any sexual activity outside of marriage or contrary to Islamic teaching is prohibited and those who may indulge in any such activity are expected to try their very best in Ramadan to abstain with
intent to give up - the same applies to any haraam (prohibited) activities
as mentioned before.

What about all that bowing is that praying?

I think you're referring to prayer.  Muslims prostrate to the Lord in submission.  As I mentioned, Muslims must try to improve and excel in their prayer during the holy month, with extra effort on the regular prayers during the day, not just Friday services.  Both Muslim men and women should make more effort to go the mosque and spend more time studying Islamic knowledge and the Qur'an. 

Attending lectures and being involved in good work, whether it's helping out at the old folk's home or even attending a peace rally, all is encouraged.  During Ramadan, there are special prayers known as the 'Tarawih' service which are performed every
evening at the mosque in congregation.

Adam: How not to use a prayer mat!

Adam: How not to use a prayer mat!

When does the fast begin and end?

The fast begins just before dawn when Muslims eat a light meal (suhoor) and confirm their intention to fast for the day.  The fast ends at sunset when the call to prayer (Adhan) is announced.  Eating a date or some water are the recommended and most popular methods of concluding the fast.  The time when the fast ends is known as 'Iftar'.

When you break the fast, do you have to eat Asian food?

Because Islam is not a culture, there is no restriction on what is eaten by Muslims provided it is prepared in the halal manner.  Quite obviously, pork and alcohol are not allowed.  Recommended food items for Muslims include dates, milk, water, honey, olives and figs - all for their nutritional properties and religious significance.  With regards to main meals, anything from fish and chips and spag bol to curries and cous-cous is allowed.

Why do some people stuff themselves when the fast is over?

Those who are fasting should deprive themselves of the meals they would normally have during the times of fast but they shouldn't really eat all they missed once the fast is over as this defeats the whole objective of the fast.  When breaking the fast (of having breakfast, I guess), they should simply have the meal they would on any other day. It is permissible to have a more elaborate feast if one if hosting a 'Iftar' meal for guests as this is considered a good and noble act, in which there is divine reward.

But don't you have to think about the poor?

Yes, Ramadan is also about thinking about the less fortunate and needy although in a lesser degree to improving one's own character over the blessed month.  Not eating and drinking does encourage Muslims do recognise how the poverty-stricken and starving people in the world must bear the burden of daily life and this is why, in Ramadan, many Muslims donate more to charities and why mosques collect more so that people right across the world can have better life and those who donate can gain greater regard for well intentioned actions.

Enlightenment is a must during Ramadhan

Enlightenment is a must during Ramadhan

So who has to fast, is it everyone?

Not everyone.  Young children are encouraged to learn about fasting but fasting is only obligatory (a must) for anyone beyond adolescence (or over the age of 10 according to some scholars).  Muslims who have medical conditions that prevent or make fasting difficult, those who are not of sound mind or are going through a pregnancy or menstruation cycle as well as those who are too young or too old do not have to fast.  In some circumstances, individuals who cannot fast for any number of reasons may make up the fast at a later date.

What if you need to train at the gym or do sports or something and you know you'll need water?

Ramadan obviously should always be placed first as it is no doubt of greater benefit and only comes around once a year.  It would be a missed opportunity if Muslims who wish to fast, and have the ability to do so, miss out while their brothers and sisters participate around them.  If Muslims feel they can fast and still carry out any high energy activities, then that's fine but if they have to choose because they can't do both, then fasting would be the better option as they can always get in any recreation
or exercise when the fast is over.

Some people call it 'Ramadam', what's that all about?

The month is correctly known as 'Ramadhan' or 'Ramadan', the latter being the more anglicised version.  'Ramadam' is incorrect and is mistakenly used. 'Ramadam-dam-dam', as pronounced by Ali G, is also wrong but you probably
guessed that already.

"Don't touch that remote for at least 30 days..."

Don't touch that remote...

When does the month begin?

Islamic months follow the lunar calendar, in the same tradition as the Jewish community.  Therefore, in relation to the solar, or Gregorian, calendar, Islamic and Jewish months will annually differ by around 11 to 12 days.  This means Islamic events will always fall roughly around the same time in the Islamic calendar but always on a different date in the mainstream solar calendar.  This year, Ramadan begins in August depending on the sighting of the moon, and will end approximately 30 days after, sometime in September when Muslims conclude the month with festivities and celebrate Eid.

What's Eid?

Eid, or 'Id, means 'festival' or 'celebration' in Arabic and the festival
following Ramadan is known as 'Eid al-Fitr'.

This article was first published in 2005.

last updated: 25/08/2009 at 14:16
created: 03/10/2005

You are in: Birmingham > Faith > Features > An Idiot's Guide to Ramadan

BBC Religion
Diane Louise Jordan


[an error occurred while processing this directive]

Worship places

St Martin's Church

360° panoramic place of worship images across the city.

About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy