Ramadan 2023: Understanding the Holiday

Islam’s holiest month has just begun, kicking off four weeks of fasting, prayer, and reflection for Muslims across the globe.

Many Muslims celebrate Ramadan by decorating and enjoying meals with family after sunset.

Mozn Elfaki

Many Muslims celebrate Ramadan by decorating and enjoying meals with family after sunset.

Most people know Ramadan as a month of fasting, but few fully understand why more than a billion Muslims around the world celebrate the month. 

This year, Ramadan began at sunset on March 22. Its start and end dates are determined by the Islamic Lunar calendar, and sightings of the crescent moon. The holiday is generally expected to end after 29 to 30 days, but this can vary slightly from country to country. 

In Islam, the Quran was revealed to the Prophet Mohammed during the month of Ramadan, making it the holiest month on the Islamic calendar. Today, Muslims spend the month fasting, praying, and spending time with family. According to The Associated Press, more than 1.8 billion people are expected to observe Ramadan in 2023.

Saria Abdalla’s, 9, family is from Sudan. As Muslims, they observe Ramadan by fasting each year, “Usually it’s the basic fasting from sunrise to sunset. For our family, it’s not really that different from other families,” said Abdalla. 

Fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam, believed to grow one’s appreciation for the basic things in life that people often take for granted.

“What I would like people to understand is the reason we’re doing it. When you know how people who don’t have access to food or water might feel physically, you’re more likely to empathize and be more charitable with them,” Abdalla explained.

Likewise, Islam depicts Ramadan as a time for families to spend time together and strengthen their relationship with God. Typically, Muslims pray five times a day during Ramadan and dedicate time to reading the Quran. 

“A typical day for me would be like, I wake up around five a.m and try to eat foods with high protein so I can go throughout the day without feeling hungry,” Mozn Elfaki, 12, stated, “I pray and try to read a lot of Quran.”

Eating meals with family is an incredibly important aspect of Ramadan. Those fasting typically eat during Suhoor, a meal that occurs before the sun rises. As well as Iftar, the meal to break ones fast after the sun sets. These meals can look like a small sit down with family, or larger gatherings with neighbors and friends.

“My favorite part [of Ramadan] is having the experience of bonding with my family,” said Abdalla.

Muslims are also strongly encouraged to donate to charity and give back to their community during the month of Ramadan. In fact, a study from Indiana University shows that in 2021, the average Muslim American household donated around $2,070 to charity during the holiday.

Finally, the month ends with a celebration called Eid al-Fitr, which commemorates the end of Ramadan. In most Muslim countries Eid al-Fitr is a national holiday, with celebrations lasting up to three days. Many Muslims partake in praying, gathering with family and friends, and enjoying meals. 

“At the end of Ramadan, there’s a day called Eid [al-Fitr]. It’s a day to celebrate getting through the month… We have a tradition of making cookies,” Abdalla comments on how her family celebrates the end of Ramadan. 

Despite Ramadan being widely practiced around the world, the topic isn’t regularly taught about in schools in the U.S. Many students receive little to no education about Ramadan, which can lead to misunderstandings on traditions of Ramadan.  

Abdalla said, “I think the most common misconception is that we fast the whole month. It’s only from sunrise to sunset. Like, we still eat.” 

The Journal of School Health explains that promoting diversity in schools by teaching about different cultures increases students’ sense of belonging, as well as their academic performance. Educating about Islam and Ramadan in school is necessary to help support Muslim students. 

“It would be nice for people to be a little more educated on it. Go look up what Ramadan is, it’s very cool to learn about… I feel like I’m heard and special when people know a lot about the topic,” commented Elfaki. 

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