1. What is Ramadan? It doesn't sound like an English word.
Ramadan is actually the ninth month in the Islamic calendar (which is the Hijri calendar). It's believed to be the most holy month in the calendar for Muslims as they believe their holy book, the Qur'an, was revealed in this month.
2. Cool. I've heard that Muslims don't eat in Ramadan for 30 days. Is that right? Is it even safe?
That's right. During Ramadan anyone who's hit puberty (said to be be around 10 for women and 15 for men) is meant to not consume any food or liquid between dawn and sunset. No, not even water.
It is safe as only those who are healthy and fit are meant to fast. This excludes children, the elderly, pregnant women, and anyone who is ill. If you're ill or have a job that requires you to exert a lot of energy (if you work in manual labour, for example), it's generally considered OK to not fast that day. Instead you're meant to "make up" the fast at a later date.
This means the Muslim football players such as France's Karim Benzema or Germany's Mesut Ozil, who both featured at last year's World Cup in Brazil, don't have to fast when they're playing intense games of football and should instead carry out the fasts later in the year by way of compensation.
3. Are you allowed rest days if you feel like you're going to die?
No one should fast if they really feel like they're going to die or that it's too extreme. But at the same time if a person is fit and healthy, they should fast unless they have a very good reason not to. Being tired doesn't quite cut it.
The idea of fasting is mentioned in the second chapter of their holy book, the Qur'an. You can listen to it here:
Here's the translation for that verse: "O you who have believed, decreed upon you is fasting as it was decreed upon those before you that you may become righteous."
4. So, umm, do you lose weight then?
Great question, but no. You know how you shouldn't go to the supermarket when you're hungry for fear you'll buy everything? After fasting you typically eat more than you would usually, even if you're already full.
Many people also eat fulfilling meals both in the evening and in the early hours of the morning, knowing they won't get to eat until the next evening. This is especially true in countries like the United Kingdom and the USA, where the length of the day is extremely long. For an insight, some in the U.K. believe dawn to be as early as 1:05 a.m. and sunset is a little after 9:15 p.m. That's a little more than 19 hours.
5. Right. Is there anything else that you're meant to do in Ramadan?
Ramadan isn't just about food and is primarily about seeking nearness to God spiritually and being more pious. Besides food, Muslims are meant to shift the emphasis in their lives to spend less time thinking about materialistic things such as branded clothes or the latest tech and rather focus on the idea that we typically have blessed lives.
This includes things like not taking for granted the fact we can get some water from a tap whenever we want or that most of us have warm homes to go to in the evening.
Muslims also tend to spend more time in the mosque during Ramadan, where they might read Qur'an or recite supplications to God. It's believed that the Qur'an was revealed in the last 10 nights of Ramadan and during this period many will choose to pray for forgiveness into the early morning.
Muslims should also be more charitable and think about those less well-off, which is somewhat easier when you get pangs of hunger throughout the day. It's also why Muslim charities tend to launch their largest campaigns during Ramadan, whether it's someone like Islamic Relief raising money for international relief efforts or a group like the Al-Mizan Trust, which looks to tackle food poverty in the U.K.
Muslims also strive to become better humans, which includes things like being more patient, kind, and generous in their daily lives.
6. Is there anything you're not meant to do, besides eat anything obviously?
The list of things that people shouldn't do during fasting is pretty lengthy — and it's pretty serious because Muslims can break their fast by doing these things. This includes doing something as simple as being impatient, lying, or gossiping, to things more active such as having sex.
There are of course exemptions for people who forget they're fasting and undertake these actions — after all, it's very much second nature to grab something to drink and most Muslims will have stories of spitting out water once they realise. The same goes if you go swimming and accidentally drink water, but most Muslims believe that it's a good precaution to not go swimming if you're fasting.
7. What do you do when you become hangry?
Well, the truth is there's very little you can do. As you're meant to be patient, the easiest thing to reduce the chance of being overtly grumpy or annoyed at someone is to minimise the opportunity for that to happen. And that might explain why people fasting don't stay out as late as they usually do or might avoid social engagements. It's not because they don't like you but probably that they actually don't want to ruin your relationship!
8. What's with the sweets at the end?
At the end of Ramadan there's a big celebration, Eid al-Fitr, when families come together to spend time with one another. The typical Eid day goes like this:
First families will go to the mosque where they will take part in Eid prayers in the morning, immediately after the morning prayers, and also have some food. It's a relaxing affair and many wear traditional garments to the mosque. After this many families will go to the cemetery and remember close ones that they have lost.
This is followed by a big family gathering with a lot of food. People from different countries and cultures will typically eat a very specific meal every Eid although desserts are a great mixture of foods from the likes of baklava (a sweet Arab pastry) to cheesecake.
9. Why do people in Manchester go crazy and drive souped-up Ferraris up and down the Curry Mile to celebrate Eid?
Beats me. If I were to guess, it would probably be because they're trying to figure out what to do with all their newfound energy.