As we start the Islamic holy month of Ramazan, Muslims have been answering a flurry of questions by people unaware of what it really means.
Fasting , or ‘sawm’ as it’s known in Arabic, is one of the five pillars of Islam and a very spiritual time for Muslims all around the world.
But to some, there’s an air of mystery surrounding the practice and confusion about what exactly the rules are.
Here are some common misconceptions and explanations that quash the misplaced beliefs:
1. You’re not allowed to eat for a whole month
Muslims do not fast for a whole month. The requirement is to fast every day from dawn to sunset for the duration of a month.
But outside of daylight hours, food and drink can be enjoyed each day as normal.
Families and friends break the fast together every day with a big meal known as ‘iftar’.
2. Brushing your teeth is not okay
Brushing one’s teeth is perfectly fine during Ramazan . In fact, maintaining good personal hygiene is considered to be very important within the religion.
Islam places emphasis on both physical and spiritual cleanliness and purification.
3. You must fast, no matter what
Fasting during Ramadan is only for those who are considered well and fit enough to do so.
If you’re ill or have any health conditions which may suffer from fasting, you are not obliged to fast.
Pregnant and breastfeeding women are also exempt, as are those on their periods. If you are travelling or on a long journey, you’re also permitted to eat and drink as normal.
People in these groups are expected to make up the days missed at a later stage, if they are well enough to.
Young children and the elderly are not expected to fast.
4. You’re not allowed to swallow your own saliva
This is definitely not a rule and would be impossible. Ramadan is not supposed to be unrealistic, unattainable or unreasonable.
5. It’s fine to drink water
Unfortunately not! Fasting means that no food or drink can be consumed during daylight hours – and this includes water.
6. Ramazan comes at a fixed time every year
Ramazan is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar, which is determined by the lunar cycle.
When Ramazan begins is based on the sighting of the new moon, which marks the beginning of the month.
If the new moon (hilal) is ‘born,’ fasting begins the following day.
Similarly when determining the last day of Ramadan , if the new moon is sighted the holy month is complete on that day.
Sometimes local sightings of the moon can differ, which is why there can be discrepancies between the days different countries start and end their fast.
It moves about 11 days each year in the Gregorian calendar, which is based on the solar year.
7. Muslims only have to abstain from food and drink while fasting
Ramazan is not just about food and drink (or the lack of it during the day).
It’s about cleansing the soul, focusing on religious duties , holy, kind and charitable deeds.
During daylight hours, Muslims also abstain from smoking, fighting, swearing, negative gossiping and sex. It’s about having self-restraint and having the mind-space to focus on the religion.
8. You must not eat in front of someone who is fasting
Eating in front of someone who is fasting is fine, and generally this will not bother Muslims, although of course this is subjective.
9. If you forget and eat or drink something, you have ruined your fast
Swallowing something accidentally does not break your fast.
So if you take a sip or munch something in a forgetful moment and only realise afterwards, you may continue your fasting and it will still count.
10. Fasting is detrimental to your health
Islam teaches that you shouldn’t do anything that compromises your health.
Muslims have fasted since the religion was founded, and history has proven it to be safe.
In fact, some even believe there may be some health benefits, but this is a topic that is often debated.
When Ramadan ends, Muslims celebrate together in what is known as ‘Eid-ul-fitr’ festivities.