This month, Muslims around the world are waking up before dawn to fast for Ramadan.
According to a 2015 study by the Pew Research Center, about 1.8 billion people observed the month-long period of fasts, which takes place during the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar and commemorates the first revelation of the Qur’an to Prophet Muhammad.
This year, Ramadan began on May 5 and will continue until June 4.
“This one month is full of blessings and virtues,” said Abdool Hamid, an imam from the Muslim Association of Canada.
But why do Muslims fast during the month of Ramadan?
The religion of Islam requires Muslims to abide by its five pillars. These include confession of faith, five daily prayers, charitable giving, pilgrimage and fasting.
There are many spiritual and physical reasons behind fasting during Ramadan.
“One of them, in particular, is mentioned in the Qur’an, and that is in order to develop a higher consciousness and a higher level of mindfulness of Allah the creator,” Hamid explained. “The second (is) purification of the self from all bad habits or sinful characteristics so, while we fast as Muslims, we are obligated to reflect and to pay attention to our own habits and to sort of unlearn the bad ones and, hopefully, learn some good new ones in their place.”
He continued: “The third (reason) is to learn self-discipline and self-control so one of the major objectives of fasting is to teach the individual that he or she can control his or her desires.”
Hamid says a typical day during Ramadan begins with a meal known as suhur, which is eaten before sunrise. Muslims generally begin their fast with the first prayer of the day, called fajr, which takes place at dawn, before observing a dry fast throughout the day until sunset. This means that no food or liquids are consumed during the fasting period.
Muslims are also expected to abstain from engaging in entertainment, sexual activity and speaking or acting in a negative manner, says Hamid.
Global News spoke to 23-year-old Taha Sheikh, who was at Masjid Toronto for his regular Friday prayers, about his experience while fasting.
“You know that out of the 12 months in the year, for 11 months you have the privilege of sleeping as much as you can… whether it’s eight hours or nine hours so (Ramadan) is a month where you feel a lot of disturbance and uncomfortable sleeping patterns, but you get used to and you know that is the part of your faith, and the reward is a lot more,” Sheikh said.
It’s not mandatory for all Muslims to fast during Ramadan. Seniors, very young children, individuals who are chronically ill and pregnant or breastfeeding women are excused from fasting, according to Hamid. Women who are menstruating or individuals who are temporarily ill are also allowed to skip their fasts and make them up at a later time.
The dry fast is typically broken with water and dates followed by evening prayers and then a post-fast meal known as iftar.
“It’s kind of like a retreat, a spiritual retreat you’re going on for 30 days. So, by the end of the 30 days, you’re more connected to your family and also your religion,” explained Sheikh.
Ramadan is followed by a celebration known as Eid-al-Fitr, or Eid, in which Muslims celebrate the blessings brought to them by the month of Ramadan with a feast, family and friends.