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Ramadan for New Muslims

As Ramadan arrives, many new Muslims are anxious and excited. They wonder how can I fast all day, even without water? What is a suhoor and iftar? What am I supposed to do during Ramadan? Why do we fast? Will I pass out from dehydration and starvation?!

Monique Hassan

Published

Dear new Muslims,

As you welcome this month of worship, don’t over complicate things and don’t worry. This is a blessed month and a time to deepen your faith. First things first, make duaa (direct prayers) and reach out to Allah (most honored, most revered) to guide you and give you strength during this time.

What is Ramadan

Ramadan is the 9th month of the Islamic calendar, the month of the Quran. 23 years of divine revelation began during this month. It was inside of the cave called Hira that the Prophet Mohamed (peace be upon him) interacted with Angel Gabriel/Jibreel and was given the first revelation from Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). The Prophet Mohamed ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) often spent time in this cave, in meditation and seclusion from the world around him. When the Angel Gabriel visited him, he was repeatedly told to read (iqra) as he responded he could not read and the following was revealed.

“Recite/read in the name of your Lord who created. Created man from a clinging substance. Recite/read, and your Lord is the most Generous. Who taught by the pen. Taught man that which he knew not.”

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[Quran 96:1-5]

These aya (verses of Quran) remind us of our very beginning and that we are all a purposeful creation. Allah (swt) bestowed upon his creation knowledge, which is a great mercy we too often take for granted.

Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) created you and part of his mercy and light is that he has bestowed knowledge upon us. Knowledge is more than just memorizing; rather it is an awareness and understanding of what we learn. We are encouraged throughout the Quran to seek knowledge and act in accordance with it. During Ramadan, remember that this is a time of worship when you can celebrate the Quran by doing what those first revelations stated, read/recite. It is a time to seek out knowledge from the Quran.

Why do Muslims Fast

The Ramadan fast includes abstaining from food, water, smoking and sexual intercourse from sunup until sundown. If you asked Muslims why we fast, Ramadan, many will say it is to empathize with the poor who often go hungry because they have no food. Some will answer that it is an obligation to fast, Ramadan, as it is one of the five pillars of Islam. Others will state it is to purify our hearts and renew our faith while seeking forgiveness. You might be wondering which of these is true, the answer, in my opinion, is all of the above and more we cannot even comprehend.

“O you who have believed, decreed upon you is fasting as it was decreed upon those before you that you may become righteous”

[Quran 2:183]

Becoming righteous, otherwise referred to as attaining taqwa, entails all of the above and more. Taqwa means to have God-consciousness in all you do. It is more than just fearing Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) and loving Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He); it is doing our best to live a lifestyle and make choices, which are pleasing to our Lord and increase our piety. Imagine what it feels like for your Mother to be near you watching every move you make, part of taqwa is being aware that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) knows every move you make and every thought in your mind.

Taqwa and iman (faith) go hand in hand; one cannot flourish without the other. When we increase our acts of worship this tends to increase our iman, as our iman rises inshallah this will also help us to increase in taqwa. As we strive to attain taqwa, that intention and increased God-consciousness causes our iman to rise. You can see the correlation here. Think of iman and taqwa like a team, the more we strengthen that team the better we perform as Muslims.

What are Suhoor and Iftar

You will hear these two terms a lot during Ramadan. Suhoor is the final meal you eat before beginning your fast. The timing for suhoor varies by geographic location; you can speak to your local Imam for the exact time. In the simplest explanation, you eat suhoor before the sunrise begins.

“…And eat and drink until the white thread of dawn becomes distinct to you from the black thread [of night]. Then complete the fast until the sunset…”

[Quran 2:187]

It is Sunnah (the practice of the Prophet) to eat suhoor as late as possible. This is rational, you are about to begin a fast all day long without food or water so take in healthy food and plenty of water until the last moment when you cannot. If you were fasting for 15 hours, why would you choose to extend that to 18 hours by eating suhoor early?

Iftar is the meal we eat to break the fast. While you can break your fast with anything, it is Sunnah to break the fast with dates and water. Just as it is Sunnah to delay the suhoor, it is Sunnah to hasten iftar. That means when you hear the adhan (call to prayer) for Maghrib and the sun is beginning to set; it is not encouraged to pray without breaking your fast first. Rather you should give yourself relief and enjoy some water and dates. This will help you focus in your prayer. You can opt to pray after the dates and water or some people prefer to eat their full meal first. I personally break my fast with one date and water then I will pray Maghrib.

Evening Prayers

It is always Sunnah to pray voluntarily during the evening, but during Ramadan, this is referred to as Taraweeh prayers. Your mosque will typically offer them right after Isha pray. You can pray Taraweeh prayers at home or in the mosque, but please be aware this is a voluntary act. You do not have to do this.

During the time the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) was alive, he came out one night to pray Taraweeh and a few people joined. This continued for days and more people joined him, on the 4th night he stayed at home. He did this purposefully as a mercy to the people because he knew the people would take it as obligatory if he kept doing it and he did not want that. The obligatory prayers are more important than Taraweeh.

“It was narrated from ‘Aishah that: The Messenger of Allah prayed in the masjid one night, and some people followed his prayer. Then he prayed the following night and more people came. Then they gathered on the third or fourth night and the Messenger of Allah did not come out to them. When morning came he said: “I saw what you did, and nothing prevented me from coming out to you but the fact that I feared that this would be made obligatory for you,” and that was in Ramadan.”

[Sunan an-Nasa’i]

Not all Muslims pray the same number of cycles during taraweeh. Some will pray 20 rakah while others pray 8, othrs 36 and there are many opinions on this. Actually, you will find people debating this online in Muslim groups. If you can only handle one set of 2 then do that, some people at the mosque will leave after so many rakah because they are unable to focus. If you choose to pray Taraweeh, do what you can handle. Pray for that your prayers are accepted. If you have questions consult with your local imam.

If you do decide to do the entire prayers know that there is an extra reward for finishing with the imam.

He ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said: When a man prays with an imam till he goes he is reckoned as having spent a whole night in prayer. [Abu Daud].

Where is no dispute amongst scholars in Islam that the established Sunnah of Taraweeh is to pray in congregation and finish with the Imam, whether he prays 8, 20 or 36 Rakaat for maximum reward.

Night of Power

You will definitely hear people talking about the night of power or Laylat Al Qadr. This night falls during the last 10 days of Ramadan on an odd-numbered night. The exact night is not provided, Subhanallah, this is for good reason. Muslims are searching for this special night but since we don’t know which day it is exactly, many Muslims will exert every ounce of energy they have left during the final 10 days in order to capture this night. It is a great motivator.

You probably wonder what is so special about the night of power. This is the day the Quran was first revealed. Remember, Ramadan is the month of the Quran. Let us look to Quran and Hadith to explain the benefits of this night.

“Indeed, We sent the Qur’an down during the Night of Power. And what can make you know what is the Night of Power? The Night of Power is better than a thousand months. The angels and the Spirit descend therein by permission of their Lord for every matter. Peace it is until the emergence of dawn”

[Quran 97:1-5]

“Narrated Abu Huraira: Allah’s Messenger said, “Whoever establishes the prayers on the night of Qadr out of sincere faith and hoping to attain Allah’s rewards (not to show off) then all his past sins will be forgiven.”

[Bukhari]

Food Choices

Ramadan is not about dieting, but you should be mindful what you choose to eat for suhoor and iftar. I personally suggest long-lasting carbs for suhoor alongside protein and fat, this will keep you satisfied longer. I make my suhoor the night before and usually make oatbowls. You can personalize these to your own unique tastes and pack in a lot of dietary fiber, protein, and fat. You want to avoid salty foods, processed sugar or anything that speeds up dehydration. It is important to drink sufficient water all night and at your suhoor. To determine if you are hydrated check the color of your urine, it should be clear.

Your iftar should be nutrient dense, you are replenishing your body and providing it nutrients to handle the next day’s fast. I suggest vegetables, protein, healthy carbs and use fruit as a sweet treat instead of processed sugars. I will warn you right now, many Muslims gain weight during Ramadan because they overeat during the night and eat unhealthy food. That is your choice to make how you want to treat your physical health during this month.

Character and Self-Discipline

Islamic character and manners otherwise referred to as adab, are highly important all year round but especially during Ramadan. It takes self-discipline not to eat or drink all day, but if you are acting angrily and cursing at people while fasting then you are not actually showing self-discipline and your fast might not be accepted.

“Narrated Abu Huraira: The Prophet said, “Whoever does not give up forged speech and evil actions, Allah is not in need of his leaving his food and drink (i.e. Allah will not accept his fasting.)”

[Bukhari]

Essentially, this tells us if you refuse to give up bad speech and conduct then why you are even fasting. Self-discipline and good manners are key values of Islam.

Does Everyone Fast?

Not everyone is required to fast. If you have health concerns such as diabetes or need to take medication throughout the day then you are exempt from the fast. Islam does not seek to harm us; if fasting would harm your health then you are not obligated to do so. Children and the elderly are also not obligated to fast. You will notice many kids doing half fasts, almost like training. They might fast until Dhuhr or aAsr or perhaps abstain from food but not water.

If you are unsure about a medical condition and how fasting will affect you, I encourage you to speak with your physician. Fasting has medical benefits, Subhanallah, many people use intermittent fasting as part of their wellness plan nowadays. It is best to speak with a medical professional regarding how fasting would affect your health needs if you have any concerns.

Menstruation

Sisters, you do not need to fast during your menses and you can make up those days throughout the year at your leisure. This is a mercy for women.

That does not mean you miss out on worship, you have a wide array of options. For one, if you feed the person who is breaking their fast then you get the same rewards as if you were fasting that day. Alhamdulillah, you get the reward of fasting without fasting! You can make duaa, recite Quran, engage in charity or do other acts of worship.

You will Survive

The first week of Ramadan is typically the hardest as your body adjusts. You may experience headaches, a lack of focus, tiredness and a foggy mind. This will go away and many people don’t experience any negative side effects. The best way to avoid these issues is to choose healthy food, get plenty of sleep and hydrate. I can’t stress enough how important it is to hydrate properly. Water is the most difficult part of the fast, not the food. Make duaa for strength.

While waiting for Maghrib, find something to focus on that does not involve the clock. If you stare at the clock, it will seem like forever. Find an activity that will focus your mind, such as reading the translation of the Quran, memorizing Quran or working on a household project. These projects eat away at time and before you know it, you hear the adhan. Do not sleep all day—you will hear about rare Muslims who sleep all day long and are awake all night having fun. This is not what Ramadan is about, you should still be doing your daily activities as normal, not using Ramadan as an excuse to be lazy.

Don’t worry; you are not going to collapse from dehydration or hunger. Yes, you will feel hunger pains and you will get thirsty, but at Maghrib you will find ease. Remember, some people in this world go hungry and thirsty without knowing when they will have their next meal but you know it happens at Maghrib.

May Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) make this Ramadan easy for you and grant you knowledge.

Ameen.

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The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Monique Hassan is a writer specializing in behavioral health and Islamic psychology. She also works at an inpatient behavioral health hospital. She has a bachelors of science in psychology with a biology minor and is certified in crisis prevention and intervention. She is a revert, a wife and a mother. Visit her website www.MoniqueHassan.com

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