An interview with Nadiya on all things Ramadan
With Ramadan fast approaching, PSC Journalist Intern Louisa Philips caught up with Nadiya, former Symonds student (Class of 2020), to discuss why she follows Ramadan and what it entails.
What does Ramadan entail?
Ramadan is the name of a month in the Islamic calendar, and it is a very special month for Muslims. During the month, Muslims fast during daylight hours and so they do not eat or drink until sunset. Muslims break their fast when the sun goes down each day and this is known as ‘Iftar’. Normally Iftar begins with everyone eating a date and drinking a glass of water because this is what the Prophet Muhammed ﷺ did when breaking his fast. Muslims are then able to eat during the period between sunset and sunrise and will generally eat a meal just before sunrise (this is known as suhoor or sehri).
Popular misconceptions are that Muslims do not eat or drink for the full 30 days, but this is not the case. Muslims are able to eat and drink each evening, up until sunrise when the new fasting day begins. Some people are also unaware that along with not eating, Muslims also abstain from drinking in the day. Ramadan is not just centred on food and drink. It is a time prescribed for Muslims to achieve the highest spiritual state they can and become closer to Allah (God) through different forms of worship – this includes the fasting itself, reading the Qur’an and praying throughout the day. In Ramadan, Muslims give up smoking, drinking alcohol (which is normally prohibited) and sex to focus their attention on their imaan (faith). The month is a time to think about the poor and give money to charity and to help each other. After Ramadan, there is a celebration called Eid al-Fitr where Muslims celebrate with their families by wearing nice clothes and eating together.
Has Ramadan been hard to follow whilst at college and uni?
It is a challenge but in the best possible way. In my experience, one challenge has been fasting in a predominantly non-Muslim environment. It does not put you off fasting but when you have others around you fasting it emphasises the community feeling. For the last few years Ramadan has coincided with exam time for many students. This can be difficult in balancing all the different aspects of Ramadan and revising or taking tests. It can be difficult if you are not eating or drinking, but I have found that it keeps my mind clear. It gives me the discipline and concentration needed for my exams and studies. I have found that when exams and Ramadan coincide, I feel much better and stronger mentally and physically if I plan my food and my revision and eat things that give me fuel and strength. Muslims have free will and could not fast during exams, but I choose to because I am lucky to be healthy enough to do it every year and it is rewarding in every way. Ramadan is a test, but it brings out the best in Muslims and many people feel that they become a better person during Ramadan. It is still evidently challenging for all Muslims in different ways, but it is a time where you are taught to overcome these hardships.
What are the rewards you get from it?
The physical or tangible rewards you get are being more in tune with yourself, having a clear mind, and being able to focus on things that are important to you. It breaks down mental and physical barriers that many people may have, and it allows you to push yourself and have discipline and self-control. Muslim are rewarded with Eid al-Fitr as a celebration of everyone’s achievements in Ramadan.
In terms of religious rewards, the rewards you get for fasting are enormous. Fasting allows you to expiate your past sins and to have a clean slate for your spiritual health. The rewards lie in becoming a better person, an increase in Taqwa (God- consciousness), and greater focus on charity and those less fortunate. You learn how to treat those around you better (e.g., no swearing). During the last 10 nights of Ramadan there is the night of power (or Layatul- Qadr) a night in which any acts of worship (praying, giving to charity, reading the Qur’an) results in reward greater than an entire year’s worth of worship. The night of power is important because it the night when the Qur’an was sent from heaven to Earth.
What can other people do to help you when you are fasting/during Ramadan?
As a Muslim, I feel that it would be nice to have support. If your friend is fasting, you could find out about why Muslims fast and educate yourself on things that you did not know about Ramadan already. A Muslim is exempt from fasting if they are physically unwell and have any illnesses which would be harmful for them to fast. If they are old, pregnant or on their period they do not have to fast. I think it would be helpful to not question someone you know who is Muslim if you see them eating during Ramadan, as they may have personal reasons for why they are not fasting. It is completely acceptable to drink or eat in front of someone who is fasting, they will generally not be offended. If someone you know is fasting during an examination period, I would suggest not questioning them on why they are doing it or imply that they should abstain from fasting because it is a personal choice.
I think schools, colleges, and universities in which Muslims are a minority should take extra consideration for Muslims, for example making sure there is a reduction of compulsory physical activity, allowing students to pray at prayer time and having tests/exams earlier in the day when students are more alert. After Ramadan, and it is Eid, wish your Muslim friends ‘Eid Mubarak’ for their celebration as a kind gesture. It would be great if educational institutions recognised that Muslims would take a day off to celebrate Eid and make it easy for them to catch up on any work.
Advice for people in Ramadan
For a person who is fasting in Ramadan my greatest advice would be to remember to be organised. Prioritise maximising your worship so that you can get as much reward as possible. Help out your family with cooking and if you have exams, plan your revision time, and eat healthy foods which will keep you going for longer. Remember to drink plenty of water.
Written by: Louisa Philips
Thanks to Nadiya for all of your insights!
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1 April 2021