Ramadan, the holiest month of the year for Muslims around the world, occurs during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. During this holy month, Muslims from all continents unite in a period of community-wide fasting and spiritual reflection.
The annual fast of Ramadan is considered one of the five “pillars” of Islam. Muslims who are physically able are required to fast each day of the entire month, from sunrise to sunset. The evenings are then spent reading from the Qu’ran and engaging in prayer and spiritual reflection. Muslims also enjoy family and community meals after sunset. There are no dietary restrictions specific to Ramadan; the usual Islamic dietary law applies.
Ramadan isn’t just about avoiding eating and drinking. From dawn to dusk during Ramadan, time is focused on purifying the soul, refocusing attention on God, and practicing self-sacrifice. The term for fasting (sawm) literally means “to refrain” and it applies to a broad spectrum of behaviors and bad habits – to thoughts, feelings, and actions. As examples, one should refrain from gossip and unkind speech, looking at unlawful (obscene) things, taking things that belong to others, and telling lies. Essentially, every part of the body and soul observes the fast. By refocusing the self on the worship of God, one cleanses the body and the spirit.
Time for Prayer: Muslims observe five formal prayers each day. The timings of these prayers are spaced fairly evenly throughout the day, so that one is constantly reminded of God and given opportunities to seek His guidance and forgiveness.
Muslims observe the formal prayers at the following times: Fajr (pre-dawn), Dhuhr (noon), ‘Asr (afternoon), Maghrib (sunset), and ‘Isha (evening). In Muslim communities, people are reminded of the daily prayer times through the calling of the adhan. For those in Muslim-minority communities, computerized adhan programs are available.
In Healthcare Settings: It is important to be aware of Ramadan because, depending on the individual/family, there may be strict adherence to prayer times and fasting. In a hospital setting it is important to note that a patient might refuse to eat during “regular” meal times and leave food untouched and then be demanding of food at unusual hours. Nurses who are being asked to bring fruits and vegetables all night might be annoyed by odd eating patterns until they learn that the patient/family is following the dictates of their religion. For many Muslins illness provides an exemption from the rules. However, the most devout may insist on following the patterns of fasting and prayer despite extenuating circumstances. Also, young children a not expected to participate in fasting. However, forgoing a favorite food, for example, might be a child’s way of joining the family’s observance of the annual fast.