It’s 4:15 a.m. as I get out of my cozy bed, do my daily morning ritual (brush teeth, wash face, etc) and make my way to the kitchen. Opening the refrigerator, I rummage through gallons of milk, containers with leftover foods, fruits, and vegetables trying to figure out what I should eat before starting this auspicious day. Scrambled eggs with bell peppers, mushrooms and toast it is! I finish off with a cup of sheer-chai (milk and tea) and a few glasses of water, so I remain hydrated throughout the day. The time is 4:51 a.m. and Ramadan has begun.

A Muslim man in a Bangladesh mosque reads the Qur'an during the break of prayers while others are resting. Staying in a mosque during the last third of the holy month and praying for forgiveness are part of the Ramadan activities. Photo Credit: Abdul Aziz Apu

I’m sure many of you know what Ramadan is, but I want to make sure that there are no misconceptions and misunderstandings about this holy month. So here’s a little crash course on Ramadan.

Ramadan is the ninth month of the lunar Islamic calendar and is one of the five pillars of Islam. The other four pillars are daily prayers (salah), charity (zakat), pilgrimage to Mecca (Hajj), and believing in one God and the Prophet Muhammad (shahada). Ramadan, or ramazan is 30 days of fasting, prayer, peace, and self-control. Muslims fast during this month to learn self-control from our daily essentials and a chance to ask for forgiveness.

From dawn to sunset (maghrib), we cannot eat, drink, smoke, or have sex. If we accidentally swallow water, or a piece of food, we can still continue our fast because Allah knows it’s unintentional. We cannot gossip, speak in an ill manner, lie to each other, or behave with a negative attitude. If we break any of these rules, our fast breaks for the day. This is a time to repent our sins, become closer to Allah through prayer and dhikr (devoting to remembering God), and give zakat. If we miss a day, we must make it up. We must remain at peace and relaxed, and clear our mind from negative thoughts.

Living in the United States, we are always on the run and we need to fuel ourselves for energy (especially difficult for a coffee-loving, caffeine addict like me). But this is a good way to learn self control from our needs and desires. We are constantly surrounded by sex, drugs, and violence whether it’s in the media, on the streets, or in our own home; it’s hard to escape. This is the kind of challenge that God put us in. My mother, and I’m sure many other older Muslims say, “God put us on this earth as a test for our next life.”

Ramadan is not about starving ourselves throughout the day. It’s a time where we should treat each other compassionately and a time to bring people together. Usama Canon, co-founder of Ta’leef Collective and Islamic speaker once said that during Ramadan, we should invite at least one person, or family to our home for iftar- the breaking of our fast. This shows our respect for others and a sense of community that should always exist within all of us. During iftar, many Muslim families come together and feast on homemade, Middle Eastern, or other ethnic foods. We break our fast with a date because Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) would do the same.

Until about two years ago, I never really understood the purpose of Ramadan. I celebrated Ramadan because I knew I had to and it was the rule. But during one of my many journalism adventures, I realized the true purpose behind it and what it means to me. While I was attending community college, I wrote for the campus newspaper, The Monitor. For my first feature, I wrote about students celebrating Ramadan during the school year and its challenges that came along with it. As I interviewed Muslim students on campus, I was astonished by what they were saying and realized that I wasn’t taking it as seriously as I should be. When we fast, we must do it wholeheartedly. We have to constantly remind ourselves the purpose behind this and what it means to us to actually enjoy it and feel this sense of spirituality within us.

For years, I knew that I wasn’t the most religious person and I always believed that someday I will live up to the Islamic expectations of praying five times a day, finishing the entire Qur’an, and to not commit any sins, whatever they may be. But the only way I can actually reach these goals is through action, not just thoughts. Ramadan is a life-changing, spiritual time that can transform a person for the better. And I look forward to it every year.

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