At sundown this past Sunday 5th May, the Muslim holiday Ramadan began and will continue until the evening of 4th June. Although it's probably best known as a time of fasting, Ramadan is actually considered the holiest month in Islam. In other words, there's a lot more to it than simply skipping meals.
Ramadan commemorates a very significant moment in Islam: when the Quran, the holy text, was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. Faryal M. Khatri of the Islamic Society of North America tells Refinery29 that Ramadan observances focus on self-purification and rejuvenation. In addition to fasting, people will spend the 30 days of Ramadan reflecting on their faith.
The nightly prayers that people attend during Ramadan facilitate this kind of spiritual meditation. Known as taraweeh, they revolve around reading the entire Quran over the course of Ramadan's 30 days. Luckily, Khatri explains, the Quran is divided into 30 parts already, so one part (or juz') is read each night.
And, yes, fasting plays a major role in reaffirming Muslims' faith, too. Beyond avoiding food and drink from sunset to sundown (and breaking the fast with a meal known as an iftar every night), "fasting" also means avoiding bad behaviour. This might mean cutting back on gossip, practicing patience, or controlling your temper — any social habit you have that may end up hurting others. "When you're fasting, you become aware of everything you do and how you react in every situation," Khatri says.
Khatri adds that non-Muslims often overlook the community-building aspect of Ramadan, but celebrating as a larger group is a huge part of the holiday. Whole mosques will open their doors to the public for a communal iftar and families will decorate their homes and neighbourhoods for the month. She says it's these community-wide displays of faith that "signify the holy month and create an environment of festive joy."
At its core, Ramadan is an opportunity for Muslims to reconnect with their religion and consider how their everyday lives reflect their faith — without any distractions. "It's a very transformative time as we turn to our faith to help us become better people and to strengthen our relationships with each other," Khatri says.
And for those hoping to bring their Ramadan celebrations into the 21st century, don't worry: There's an app for that.