An Overview of Ramadan and Fasting Presentation

This digital presentation and its accompanying notes provides an overview on the topic of Ramadan and fasting, including a description of the month and the lunar calendar, the purpose and goals of fasting, how the fast functions, a look at a typical day in the life of a fasting person, and exemptions from fasting. The presentation also describes some of the challenges for fasting students and how best to accommodate them, and concludes with a description of the holiday which celebrates the end of the fast, Eid ul-Fitr.

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An Overview of Ramadan & Fasting

The following is an overview of Ramadan and fasting. This information was created to be used in conjunction with the digital presentation. Each slide has a corresponding description which can serve as scripts for those using the digital overview to present about the topic, or as further explanation for those viewing the digital presentation. 

The use of this resource to present about Islam and Muslims should be supplemented by ING’s answers to frequently asked questions. If you are interested in becoming one of our local volunteer certified speakers, join us here or write to one of our affiliates if you live in their areaWe’ve also created a special online version of our core presentation Getting to Know American Muslims and Their Faith for public use.

Note: This presentation is the intellectual property of Islamic Networks Group (ING) and is available for non-commercial public use only. This presentation and its content cannot be displayed in exchange for payment in cash or in kind.

Slide 2: What is Ramadan?

Ramadan is the name of the 9th month in the Islamic calendar and is considered a holy month for Muslims. Ramadan is the month in which Muslims believe the Qur’an was first revealed. For that reason, Muslims reconnect with the Qur’an in Ramadan and attempt to read it in its entirety at least once during the month. It is also a month of fasting and extra worship, during which Muslims pay special attention to their daily prayers and perform special nightly prayers. Ramadan is also a highly communal time of year, during which people invite friends and family to join in breaking the fast. Muslims wish each other a blessed Ramadan by saying Ramadan Mubarak!

Slide 3: When is Ramadan?

The Islamic calendar is commonly referred to as the Hijri calendar since it starts from the migration or hijra by the early Muslims to Medina in 622. The Islamic calendar is lunar, beginning and ending with the new moon. Because it is lunar, the entire calendar, including Ramadan, moves 11 days earlier each year. This year Ramadan will begin around April 13th and end around May 12th.

Slide 4: What are the goals of fasting?

Fasting in Ramadan is the fourth pillar of Islam; fasting is called sawm or siyam in Arabic. The goals of fasting are multiple. Fasting helps Muslims draw closer to God through extra devotional activities such as reading the Qur’an and performing special prayers. Fasting also helps Muslims build their will power and learn self-control, gratitude for what they have, and compassion for those less fortunate. Ramadan is also a time for heightened self-awareness and introspection and for cultivating good character by avoiding any proscribed thoughts or actions. Additionally, Ramadan is a communal time as Muslims share in breaking their fast and attend special prayers at the mosque. Overall, Ramadan is a month of intense spiritual rejuvenation and self-reflection.

Slide 5: How long is the Ramadan fast?

The Ramadan fast lasts from pre-dawn to sunset each day for 29 or 30 days. Adults who are physically able refrain from food, drink, and intimacy during daylight hours. Depending on the time of year (longer days in the summer and shorter days in the winter), the fast lasts between 12 to 16 hours each day.

Slide 6: What is a typical day in Ramadan like?

During a typical day in Ramadan, observant Muslims rise before dawn to eat a small meal similar to breakfast before performing the early morning prayer. They may go back to sleep or go to work or school, continuing their normal schedule or making adjustments in start and end times of work, depending on their work schedule and preferences. They break their fast at sunset, either at home or in the mosque if it offers daily fast-breaking dinners. It is customary to invite one’s family and friends to share in breaking the fast.

During Ramadan, those who are fasting make extra efforts to perform all five daily prayers. In addition, there are special Ramadan prayers called taraweeh that follow the night prayerPeople may also perform extra prayers during the night.

Slide 7: What are special Ramadan foods?

It is a prophetic tradition and widespread custom to break the fast with dates and water or milk. Every ethnic group follows its own traditional ways for breaking the fast (known as iftar in Arabic), with some cultures serving fruit while others serve soup or appetizers. Ramadan dinners also feature special ethnic foods, especially when guests, extended family, and friends are invited. It is highly encouraged to share in breaking the fast with others, and according to prophetic tradition, the person who feeds a fasting person shares the reward for fasting.

Slide 8: Who is exempt from fasting?

People who are exempt from fasting include the elderly, sick, travelers, and pregnant or breast-feeding women. People may make up a fast by fasting the days they missed when they are able to at a later time or by feeding the poor if unable to fast indefinitely. Children are not required to fast but often begin fasting at age 9 or 10 to emulate their siblings or parents.

Slide 9: Accommodating fasting employees and students

This section describes some best practices for accommodating fasting employees and students.

Slide 10: How does fasting impact employees?

Some fasting employees may request an adjustment in their schedules during Ramadan because of the challenging schedule of waking up early and sleeping late and because of the timing of fast-breaking, depending on the time of year. If a lunch meeting is scheduled in Ramadan, Muslim employees can attend but will not be able to eat. Some companies encourage their Muslim employees to host iftar or breaking-fast dinners for their co-workers. Employees may want to use their vacation time during the last ten days of Ramadan, which is a time of increased devotion.

Slide 11: A humorous look at challenges of fasting in the workplace

Watch this clip to get a humorous look at some of the challenges of fasting in the workplace!

Slide 12: What are some challenges for fasting students in school?

While they are not required to fast before puberty, younger children may fast in emulation of their parents or older siblings. By middle school most observant Muslims youth will fast the entire month. Fasting students may also attend special night prayers with their families. The combination of fasting and late nights may impact students’ energy level at recess or in P.E. and make them less attentive in class.

Slide 13: How to best accommodate fasting students in school?

A good way to help fasting students feel included and to promote awareness is to announce the start of Ramadan in the school newsletter or include it on the school calendar. The Ramadan greeting is “Ramadan Mubarak” which means a “blessed Ramadan.” Fasting students should be allowed to spend their lunchtime in the library or computer lab and to be excused from strenuous activities in P.E.  Younger students may want to save treats from parties which take place during class time. If students or their parents are interested in explaining Ramadan to the class, that is a great way to make the fasting students feel included and to educate the rest of the class about Ramadan.

Slide 14: How is Ramadan observed around the world?

Ramadan is celebrated by Muslims across the world in a variety of ways. In many Muslim-majority countries Ramadan is celebrated by decorating with lights and lanterns. In places like Turkey and Kenya, they beat drums to wake people up for suhur (pre-fast meal). While the call to prayer (adhan) at sunset announces the end of the fast in most Muslim-majority countries, some countries have distinct ways of signaling the time for fast breaking such as Indonesia, where it is marked with a giant drum called a bedug. It is customary for many mosques to serve dates, fruit, and appetizers to worshippers for iftar or breaking the fast. Every country has special Ramadan foods such as samosas in South Asia. In many Muslim-majority countries, the market place stays open late for people to shop after the night prayers.

Slide 15: Celebrating the end of Ramadan

Muslims celebrate the conclusion of Ramadan with a holiday called Eid ul-Fitr, which mean the “Festival of Breaking the Fast.” It comes the day after Ramadan and also follows the Islamic lunar calendar so it occurs eleven days earlier every year. The three-day holiday is celebrated with special prayers, and gifts, money and new clothes for children, and various types of entertainment at the park or in rented halls and of course lots of good food! The holiday greeting is “Eid Mubarak” which means “blessed holiday.”

Slide 16: Thank you

Thank you for your interest and we hope this information was useful. To learn more about Ramadan and how to interact with fasting friends or co-workers, see this CNN article and video.

At ING we believe that better understanding each other is an important first step to creating a more harmonious society. We hope you will join us in this important work.