Ramadan for New Muslims And Non-Muslim Friends
Perfecting one’s Ramadan experience can be a lifetime achievement. We should not expect that we can perform the fasts perfectly or in their entirety when we have not had the benefit of many years of practice. To do so would undoubtedly be counterproductive as it would be overwhelming and cause burnout. Even those who are born Muslim and those who have been Muslim for many years struggle in perfecting the important aspects of Ramadan.
It’s for this reason that for new Muslims, scholars often agree that reverts (and those born Muslim who are rediscovering their Islamic faith) should “ease” themselves into it in whatever way possible. Allah is Most Merciful and Forgiving of our situations and does not hold it against us.
For those who are not Muslim but follow the fast in solidarity or for the experience, it is beneficial to follow the same guidelines as new Muslims. It would take a serious effort for someone not already acclimatized to perform all 30 days of Ramadan fasts perfectly from dawn to dusk and is not necessary for you to benefit from Ramadan.
There are many things to discuss about Ramadan and many more suggestions but I will try to focus on a few to get you started.
The following are some tips on preparing for Ramadan for those who are taking on the fast.
The first thing we should do to prepare for Ramadan is to bring our minds into focus. This is not a requirement of Ramadan per se but is beneficial. A week or two prior to Ramadan, it can be beneficial to place your mind at ease and train it to a peaceful state. An important aspect of Ramadan is that during the fast, you try to keep a peaceful mind and interaction with other people. Becoming angry, impatient, annoyed, etc. can break your fast if indulged to a significant degree. So, practice prior to Ramadan helps us during Ramadan itself. During the course of your day, try to be aware of the happenings around you and notice when your emotions tend to take over. When you sense this, try to refocus your mind and control your emotions and re-establish a peaceful state within yourself. This is not only a spiritual aspect to the benefits of Ramadan, but also very practical and earthly. The rewards of such are not only in this world but in the Hereafter. During your fast, you will practice this throughout the entire fast, from dawn until dusk for 30 days. You can help prepare yourself for the ritual demand of Ramadan by fasting a few days over the few weeks prior to Ramadan if you wish but it is also not necessary.
Second, an important thing is to physically prepare for Ramadan. Many of us are at home in a normal living environment, but some of us travel and otherwise have other issues going on that might hinder our ability to fast. For those at home, purchase in advance plenty of dates or other fruit for iftar (breaking the fast). After you fast each day, your body will be drained. You will be impatient, weak, and very hungry. Also, prepare healthy dinners, or if you eat out try to choose healthy foods rather than the normal foods you might eat. Your body will need proper nutrients to handle more days of fasting. Foods rich in fats and sugars will wear your body down and make it more difficult in the long run. If you have a Masjid (Mosque) or Islamic center nearby, they most likely will be running Iftar programs where you can break your fast and have dinner with the community. If you are not Muslim, you can still attend these programs. Just contact, or walk in, and tell the organizers or community leader that you are not Muslim and are practicing the fast of Ramadan and would like to breakfast with them. In all cases that I am aware of, they are very helpful and willing to have a non-Muslim guest share their experience!
For those traveling who are still going to observe the fast, carry with your dates or dried fruit and bottled water or juice.
Keep watch for the start of Ramadan. It does not necessarily start when the Gregorian calendar says. Ramadan is a lunar month in the Islamic calendar and is identified upon the first sighting of the moon and ends on the next sighting. If you have doubts about when the sighting occurred, ask people in the Muslim community and they can tell you if it has been sighted in your region. Depending on the region, the sighting can vary by one day, so while some may observe Ramadan from the sighting in their region, others may not have sighted it until the following day and will begin their observance then.
Observing Ramadan is one of the five pillars (core tenets) of Islam. In observance of this month, once a year, Muslims are asked to refrain from food, drink, and physical marital relations from before dawn until sunset during the entire month of Ramadan. Since Ramadan is a lunar month, following the Islamic calendar, it moves back eleven days throughout the year and thus is not fixed during one particular season. Due to the lunar calendar sometimes Ramadan falls in summer, sometimes in winter, with the variation in the length of the day and temperature. The fast of Ramadan is a complete fast, but it is only during the daylight hours, which vary from 12 to 16 hours in the summer.
To start the day of fasting, it is important to wake just prior to dawn and have a modest breakfast to give your body the nutrients it needs and hydrate your body. Be sure that you take in plenty of liquids! The fast is all day until sunset when you will break your fast with a small portion of fruit and drink prior to your dinner. It is good practice to give 10 or 15 minutes between breaking your fast and having your dinner as this jumpstarts your digestive system and avoids stomach aches. The stomach naturally shrinks while fasting and needs time to acclimatize to having food put back into it.
The purpose of the fast is to learn self-restraint and control and to learn a heightened appreciation for the good things we enjoy and often take for granted. During this time, Muslims are also supposed to abstain from any negative behavior, such as fighting, backbiting, etc.
Those who cannot fast, such as the elderly, sick, pregnant or nursing women, or travelers, they may make up their fast later or give charity for every day of fast they miss. Children are not required to fast until puberty but often do so in the emulation of their parents. Many children go to public school and continue there fast at school.
During the month of Ramadan, it is common to have large numbers of Muslims at homes, places of worship, and outings when they break the fast. Breaking fast happens at dusk and is a time when family and friends enjoy each other’s company and thank God for His goodness.
Giving charity to the poor during this month is a pinnacle of Ramadan. As we observe the fast we are reminded of the suffering of others and there is great reward in the act of giving.
Suggestions for your first fast
Remember, although you may be eager to perform the fasts perfectly, it is important for you to pace yourself at a healthy pace in order to get a positive experience and take away the most from the fast. Over the years of fasting, as you perfect your fast each year, Ramadan will continue to enlighten you, increase your iman (faith) and deepen your understanding and appreciation of the month of Ramadan.
For our non-Muslim friends, just the little that you do can give you a deeper understanding of the purpose of Ramadan and the Muslim experience and hopefully can benefit you in many other ways.
For your first fast, and for the reasons stated earlier in this article, I would suggest that you not try to perform it to the letter. Observe the fast for 30 days (or the duration of the Ramadan fast since sometimes it can be for 29 days) from dawn to dusk. Choose where you will start. Try abstaining from food and not drinking for the duration of the fast. Remember that Allah is Most Merciful and Most Forgiving and understands our condition. As the years pass, if you continue to fast, during Ramadan, you can increase your observance until you finally can perform the fast perfectly with regards to the ritual aspects of the fast.
Remember that your moral character is very important to fasting. It is important to abstain from all sinful acts, bickering, fighting, anger, etc. These things break your fast.
If you break you’re fast unintentionally, for example, if you accidentally eat something without thinking or if you get overly angry and realize after the fact, your fast is not broken! Continue to keep the fast. Allah is Most Merciful and Forgiving and knows that we are creatures of habit.
If your body cannot handle a complete fast or gets too weak or sick, then break your fast immediately! Allah does not require that by observing the fast you harm your body. The fast is to benefit our body and soul, but not to the degree of self-harm.
For New Muslims, you have many things you are trying to assimilate into your life. Performing prayers (salat) may not be perfect yet. Salat is important in keeping fast. However, don’t overdo yourself. If you have not reached the level of praying five times per day, even though it is paramount to keeping the fast, your fast is not broken and Allah does not hold this as a sin against you. Over time, you will acclimatize yourself to taking on the ritual aspects of Islam, but for now, concentrate on the spiritual aspects while trying to the best of your ability to assimilate the ritual aspects. Always remember, as I have said many times in this article, Allah is Most Merciful and forgiving on you. More so than any human being can ever hope to understand or be.
The most important thing about starting your fast (prayers and anything you do) is your intention (Niyyah) to fast. If you make the intention to fast, then you are fasting and Allah rewards you regardless of your ability to keep the ritual. He does this to encourage you to deepen your practice and strengthen your moral character, and faith in Islam.
Islam is a very spiritual and personal faith. The rituals only seek to deepen your spiritual and personal faith while establishing structure in religion. So, your intention is the most important starting point.
The End of Ramadan
At the end of Ramadan, I would suggest writing down your experience as a permanent record for you to refer to. What did you do in your fast and what it meant to you? How has the experience changed your life for the better? What changes did you make that you can carry on to the remaining months of the year? How has your fasting experience during Ramadan benefited the people around you? What do you intend to do for the next Ramadan?
Refer to your experience from time to time as a reminder and share your experience with others who can benefit from it as well.
At the end of Ramadan, Muslims observe what we call Eid al-Fitr. This is a high holy day where most communities hold a special “Eid” prayer gathering and have dinners with family and friends. Many families share gifts and sweets or hold Quran studies and readings. It is a joyful time of appreciation for what Allah has given us.
Remember, your Ramadan experience doesn’t end here. Carry it for the rest of the year. Consider it like a New Year’s resolution. All that you learned and accumulated during Ramadan, try to emulate that throughout the year.
Insha Allah (God willing) whether you are Muslim or not, you will find the experience of Ramadan beneficial in some way.
May Allah bless you and keep you during this blessed month! Ameen!!