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Ramadan 2018: Questions about the Muslim holy month you were too embarrassed to ask

The Muslim holy month of Ramadan starts today, May 15, and most of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims will observe it. This means there’s a good chance you might encounter someone — a friend, a co-worker, the barista making your latte at Starbucks, your child’s teacher — who will be celebrating, fasting, and doing all sorts of other activities that are unique to the holy month.

But what is Ramadan, exactly? And how can I make sure I don’t accidentally offend my Muslim friends and acquaintances during Ramadan celebrations?

We’ve got you covered: Here are the most basic answers to the most basic questions about Ramadan.

1) What is Ramadan actually about?

Ramadan is the most sacred month of the year for Muslims — the Prophet Mohammedreportedly said, “When the month of Ramadan starts, the gates of heaven are opened and the gates of hell are closed and the devils are chained.”

Muslims believe it was during this month that God revealed the first verses of the Quran, Islam’s sacred text, to Mohammed, on a night known as “The Night of Power” (or Laylat al-Qadr in Arabic).

During the entire month of Ramadan, Muslims fast every day from dawn to sunset. It is meant to be a time of spiritual discipline — of deep contemplation of one’s relationship with God, extra prayer, increased charity and generosity, and intense study of the Quran.

2) How does fasting work?

Fasting during Ramadan is one of the five pillars — or duties — of Islam, along with the testimony of faith, prayer, charitable giving, and making a pilgrimage to Mecca. All Muslims are required to take part every year, though there are special dispensations for those who are ill, pregnant or nursing, menstruating, or traveling, and for young children and the elderly.

The practice of fasting serves several spiritual and social purposes: to remind you of your human frailty and your dependence on God for sustenance, to show you what it feels like to be hungry and thirsty so you feel compassion for (and a duty to help) the poor and needy, and to reduce the distractions in life so you can more clearly focus on your relationship with God.

3) What is a typical day like during Ramadan?

During Ramadan, Muslims wake up well before dawn to eat the first meal of the day, which has to last until sunset. This means eating lots of high-protein foods and drinking as much water as possible right up until dawn, after which you can’t eat or drink anything. At dawn, we perform the morning prayer. Since it’s usually still pretty early, many go back to sleep for a bit before waking up again to get ready for the day (I certainly do).

Muslims are not supposed to avoid work or school or any other normal duties during the day just because we are fasting. In many Muslim countries, however, businesses and schools may reduce their hours during the day or close entirely. For the most part, though, Muslims go about their daily business as we normally would, despite not being able to eat or drink anything the whole day.

When the evening call to prayer is finally made (or when the alarm on your phone’s Muslim prayer app goes off), we break the day’s fast with a light meal — really more of a snack — called an iftar (literally “breakfast”), before performing the evening prayer. Many also go to the mosque for the evening prayer, followed by a special prayer that is only recited during Ramadan.

This is usually followed by a larger meal a bit later in the evening, which is often shared with family and friends in one another’s homes throughout the month. Then it’s off to bed for a few hours of sleep before it’s time to wake up and start all over again.

(Note: There are good reasons for only having a small snack to break your fast before performing the evening prayer and then eating a bigger meal later. Muslim prayers involve a lot of movement — bending over, prostrating on the ground, standing up, etc. Doing all that physical activity on a full stomach after not having eaten for 15 hours is a recipe for disaster. Just trust me on this one.)

4) So do you lose weight during Ramadan?

Some of you may be thinking, “Wow, that sounds like a great way to lose weight! I’m going to try it!” But in fact, Ramadan is actually notorious for often causing weight gain. That’s because eating large meals super early in the morning and late at night with a long period of low activity bordering on lethargy in between can wreak havoc on your metabolism.

But if you’re careful, you can avoid putting on weight, and you may actually lose a few pounds. One meta-analysis of scientific studies on the effects of Ramadan fasting on body weight found that “[w]eight changes during Ramadan were relatively small and mostly reversed after Ramadan, gradually returning to pre-Ramadan status. Ramadan provides an opportunity to lose weight, but structured and consistent lifestyle modifications are necessary to achieve lasting weight loss.” [Italics mine.]

So just like with any other extreme diet plan, you may lose a few pounds, but unless you actually make “structured and consistent lifestyle modifications,” you’re probably not going to see major, lasting results.

 

Originally created from here.

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