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The Holy Month of Ramadan

Ramadan Fasting 2021

May 12, 2021

For Muslims throughout the world, Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, marks the holiest month in Islam. For many Muslims, Ramadan means a month of fasting from sunrise to sunset. Let’s unpack that a bit. The start of Ramadan changes each year as it is determined by the sighting of the New Moon. In 2021, the start of Ramadan is the evening of Monday, April 12, and ends the evening of Wednesday, May 12.

Ramadan Fasting

Fasting during the holy month of Ramadan is the fourth pillar of Islam. The fast is an act of faith and worship in which Muslims seek a deeper relationship with God and all creation. The five pillars of Islam are:

  1. Profession of Faith (Shahada) “There is no god but God and Muhammad is the messenger of God”
  2. Prayer (salat)
  3. Alms (zakat)
  4. Fasting (sawm), and
  5. Pilgrimage (hajj).

Ramadan is a period of introspection, of communal (in mosque) and private prayer and the reading of the Qur’an, the supreme authority in Islam. For Muslims, God the All Merciful forgives all the sins of the past for those who observe the holy month with prayer and fasting. It is a time of self-restraint from dawn to dusk. So, you ask, what is fasting? For the observant Muslim, it is restraint from food, drink, sexual activity, smoking, impure thoughts and any unkind words. An angry word to another is as destructive to the fast as food and drink.

Ramadan is a time of prayer and meditation, a time of growing closer to God and all humanity. Fasting from food and drink — even from sunrise to sunset — brings one into solidarity with the needy poor who are in constant hunger and thirst. Zakat, alms giving, is a concrete way of helping those who are in need. Those with more help those with less — this is the spirit of Ramadan. Here is a factual tidbit: Research indicates that Muslims give more to charity than any other religious group in the U.S. and around the world. In fact, in many predominantly Muslim countries, Zakat is an actual tax paid on income held for the use of helping those less fortunate. Ramadan is not a month of misery and sorrow but one of great joy and promise that brings the practicing Muslim closer to God.

Suhoor + Iftar

So, what is this fasting like? When fasting, Muslims will have one meal before sunrise called suhoor (eaten before prayer) and another after sunset called iftar. A balanced suhoor will give you the energy to help you live with hunger and thirst during the day. (There is abundant research available online regarding nutritional guidance for suhoor.) The fast is ended at sunset with iftar. The fasting is broken initially by perhaps a few dates and a glass of water or fruit juice. Once the initial fast is broken, Muslims will break for prayers and then return to eat a larger meal.

There are some who are exempt from fasting during Ramadan including young children, elderly, the ill, pregnant and breastfeeding mothers, travelers and a few others.

Eid al-Fitir

The ending of Ramadan is marked by Eid al-Fitir, a one- to three-day festival (depending on the location) and religious holiday celebrated by Muslims throughout the world. Eid al-Fitir combines festive meals, with prayer, social gatherings, gift giving and helping of the less fortunate, and it is the only day where it is forbidden to fast.

If you have a Muslim friend or team member, you might consider greeting them with: Ramadan Kareem (Have a Generous Ramadan) or simply Ramadan Mubarek (Happy Ramadan)! And perhaps waiting until after Ramadan to invite us to join you for lunch.

Colleagues and organizations can support Muslim team members who are observing Ramadan simply by recognizing that many times what makes humanity appear different is exactly what makes us stronger as an organization and as members of the human race. Yes, diversity does make us stronger!

I'll close with an old Turkish saying, “May everyone you meet feel appreciated and valued.”

Greater Des Moines (DSM) welcomes diverse talent to the region. As one of the fastest growing business communities, inclusion and attracting diverse talent in the workplace is a key strategy of the Greater Des Moines Partnership. Learn more here.

Jim Bitzes

Jim Bitzes is a claims specialist at EMC Insurance Companies. He has a passion for studying world religions focusing on the celebration of common ground. Jim holds an M.A. in applied orthodox theology and a master's of theology in pastoral counseling from The University of Balamand.