Muslims around the world are getting ready for Ramadan.
A record-breaking 88,000 Muslims gathered in Birmingham on July 6, 2016, to celebrate Eid al-Fitr as the month of fasting came to an end.
But Ramadan is about much more than fasting. It’s also for spirituality, charity, reflection, resolutions and feeling closer to the Creator.
It also gives people an insight into what the poor and needy feel like when they have no food or water. This a time for Muslims to show their gratitude to Allah.
In 2017, the General Election as well as the GCSE and A-Level exams will all fall during Ramadan, creating an additional challenge for campaigning Muslim politicians and for Muslim students.
So what are the dates of Ramadan in 2017? Why does the date vary and is anyone exempt from fasting?
When will Ramadan be in 2017?
Ramadan will start on Saturday, May 27, 2017, and lasts until June 24, 2017.
The fast is broken with the celebrations of Eid al-Fitr on June 25, 2017, as the next month (Shawwal) begins.
Why does the date vary?
The Islamic calendar is based on the cycle of the moon, but the Gregorian calendar largely used in the western world is based on the sun.
Because the two calendars don’t align exactly, the Islamic dates move back by 11 days a year.
So how is the date worked out?
In Islam, the start and end of month is based on a sighting of the first crescent of the new moon at Mecca, in Saudi Arabia.
Mecca is Islam’s holiest city because it’s the birthplace of the prophet Muhammad and the place where the Qur’an or Koran was first revealed to him.
But, of course, the crescent moon may not always be visible – because of its position in the sky or because of cloudy weather.
It has been decreed since March 2002 that if the first crescent of the new moon is seen above Mecca on the 29th day of the existing month, then Ramadan has ended and the next day will be the start of the new month.
If the moon is not seen, the current month will go on another day, lasting a total of 30 days. This occurred in 2016, when the moon was not sighted on July 4 and therefore Eid was not the next day but instead on July 6.
So the date of Ramadan – and, therefore, of Eid al-Fitr at the start of the next month – is not known until a day or so before it is expected to happen.
For 2017, the moon has not been sighted so the first day of Ramdan has been confirmed as Saturday, May 27 with prayers beginning at 11pm on Friday, May 26.
Before 2002, slightly different rules were used for determining the start of the month but were still based on the moon.
Some governments and other organisations instead look at astronomical charts so they can plan further ahead.
In Saudi Arabia, the Institute of Astronomical & Geophysical Research of the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST), uses modern science to work out the Umm al-Qura calendar – this is used by the country’s government for setting the date of its policies, events and other civic matters. It has already deterrmined Ramadan to be from May 27 to June 24.
That calendar is also used by the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), the Fiqh Council of North America (FCNA) and the European Council for Fatwa and Research (ECFR).
But the religious authorities in Saudi Arabia still base their decisions on the first sighting of the lunar crescent.
What happens during Ramadan?
Ramadan is a month of fasting.
Muslims must abstain from food, drink, smoking and sex each day, between an early-morning meal (suhur) and a night-time meal (iftar).
While fasting, they have more time to focus their minds and activities on prayer and spiritual reflection, including greater study of the Qur’an.
Ramadan was particularly tough in 2016 because it was in the period leading up to (and including) the longest day of the year.
Because the fast takes place from early in the morning (a couple of hours before sunrise) to sunset, it has meant long periods of around 19 hours without food and drink.
In 2017, it won’t include the longest day but it will still cover a period of extended daylight hours, so it will still be quite a challenge.
- In the run-up to Ramadan, volunteers from Birmingham’s Muslim community are trying to improve their image and boost their profile by holding a charity car wash at Heartlands Auto Centre, Hob Moor Road, Small Heath, to raise money for Birmingham Homeless Outreach. The car wash will take place from noon to 8pm on Saturday, May 21, and organisers are appealing for more volunteers to come forward and help wash cars on the day.
During Ramadan, it’s also customary to put up decorations. Here are a few options:
Ramadan Balloons Party Pack on eBay for £1.49
Ramadan Kareem Bunting on eBay for £2.95
Ramadan Mubarak Bunting on eBay for £3.50
Ramadan Party Paper Chains on eBay for £1.75
Ramadan decorations on eBay for £1.50
Who is exempt from fasting?
Fasting is done out of the love for Allah (God) and shows devotion, willpower, discipline, patience, selflessness, adaptability, unity, and closeness to the supreme being.
During Ramadan, fasting is compulsory for every Muslim who is mentally and physically fit and healthy.
But not everyone takes part. There are some exceptions.
Children under the age of puberty, normally around 14, are exempt but are encouraged to gradually start giving up some food and drink during Ramdan so they are better prepared when they reach the age of full fasting.
Also excluded are the severely mentally ill; those who are sick or elderly; people who are away from home on a journey of 50 miles or more; and women who are pregnant, breastfeeding or having their period.
Elderly or frail people are still expected to offer a meal (or its value) to one needy or poor Muslim every day of Ramadan.
Those who are too ill to fast during Ramadan, travelling or having their period must make up for every day of missed fasting at a later date.
The severely mentally ill are not expected to compensate for not taking part in the religious tradition.
What’s the Ramadan UK calendar and timetable?
While the exact date of Ramadan has not yet been decided, some Muslim officials have already worked out the calendar on the basis that it starts on May 27.
Each day begins with the early morning meal (suhur) which is eaten between 2.30am and 3am. The evening meal (iftar) is eaten around 9pm-9.30pm, meaning a daily fast of more than 18 hours.
Five sets of prayers are held through the day and, for the expected first day of Ramadan on May 27, these would start at 3.09am, 1.05pm, 5.23pm, 9.15pm and 10.28pm. Timings are calculated around sunrise and sunset.
For children, Ramadan advent calendars are a way of keeping track of the fasting during the countdown to Eid and are usually filled with toys and treats.
They include this Ramadan Countdown Advent Calendar Sticker Pack on eBay for £2.50.
Ramadan food and special offers
The prophet Muhammad recommended breaking the fast by first eating a few dates or drinking a glass of plain water right after sunset.
Dates are the food Muhammad used to break his own fasting. They are a good source of sugar, fibre and essential vitamins and minerals.
It’s suggested to make the evening meal as light as possible rather than trying to make up for missed food with a big feast.
Supermarkets including Tesco, Morrisons and Sainsbury’s offer special deals and recipes on food suitable for Muslim meals during Ramadan.
In 2015, Ramadan boosted Britain’s big supermarkets with a £100 million increase in sales.
Tesco said demand for chapati flour, oil and dates had risen by 70 per cent, while Sainsbury’s said sales of rice had doubled.