This morning many British Turkish Muslims welcomed the holy month of Ramazan by starting their month-long fast. Ramazan is the holiest month in the Islamic calendar and for 30 days Muslims around the world will not consume any food or drink from sunrise to sunset. Fasting ends on the evening of Saturday 24 June.
Islam’s holy book the Kuran sets out the Five Pillars of Islam, which are obligatory for Muslims, and fasting at Ramazan is one of these. During this month, Muslims must not only abstain from food and drink, but also smoking and sexual intercourse from sahur (last meal before sunrise) to iftar (first meal after sunset).
Like the Christian tradition of Lent, even unobservant Muslims use this period to refrain from a host of ‘sinful’ activities they may indulge in during other times of the year. Instead, Ramazan is the chance for self-examination and increased religious devotion.
Muslims will spend time with their families and fellow Muslims, attend the mosque more often, read the Kuran and also make additional prayers. Communal iftars will be arranged daily by local authorities in Muslim majority countries, and occasionally by mosques and other sponsors for Muslims in other territories. Non-Muslims are also welcome at these meals.
Speaking at a press conference on May 25 Prof. Mehmet Görmez, the head of Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate (Diyanet), said Ramazan should not be about amusement and crass showiness. He also warned worshippers not to make iftar meals over-indulgent, which goes against the spirit of the holy month.
“Let’s not turn our tables into waste tables. Let’s not turn our iftar tables into gaudy tables where only wealthy people are invited. The rich shouldn’t stop contributing to the tables of the poor. With this occasion, every rich citizen should go and attend the poor’s tables with their children, spouses and family.”
Ramazan is an important opportunity for Muslims to reflect not just on their lives, but also the wider world. Those fasting will experience lower energy levels, and must behave more wisely to conserve their limited energy throughout the day. Negative thoughts and actions can rapidly deplete energy, so remaining calm and positive are essential to getting through the day.
The self-discipline needed for fasting serves as an annual reminder to Muslims of the many blessings they enjoy in their daily lives, first and foremost food and drink, compared to the basic struggles millions of others face. It’s also a time to consciously consider how to become more virtuous in one’s thoughts and deeds, such as giving to charity, showing more compassion, and making peace and reconciling with others.
Based around the lunar calendar, Ramazan is the ninth month of the year. Start and end dates can vary from country to country, while times for sunrise and sunset vary from city to city. Muslims should consult their local mosques for sahur, iftar and prayer times.