There are strict rules that Muslims need to follow (Picture: Getty Images)
Ramadan, the month-long festival marking the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, has arrived.
For the next few weeks, Muslims all over the world will observe the occasion by fasting during the day.
But just why do Muslims fast during Ramadan – and what are the rules they have to follow?
Here is everything you need to know.
Why do Muslims fast?
Ramadan is a time of spiritual reflection and self-improvement for Muslims – who will refrain from eating and drinking during daylight hours in order to focus more on their faith and avoid being distracted by worldly activities.
The fast is also meant to remind Muslims of their dependence on Allah for sustenance, as well as to give them compassion and empathy for those who are less fortunate than them.
Ramadan is marked by a month of fasting (Picture: Getty Images)
It is regarded as one of the Five Pillars of Islam, along with Profession of Faith, Prayer, giving to charity, and making a pilgrimage to Mecca.
The discipline required to complete Ramadan is supposed to purify a Muslim to make them closer to God, but it also teaches them what it’s like to be less fortunate and unable to eat.
Sajad Mahmood, CEO of a Muslim charity, told Metro.co.uk: ‘Observing the fast during the holy month is extremely important as it is a time for improving one’s connection to God and is a time for self-reflection, and self-control.
‘Ramadan is a month which should act as a month of spiritual training for the rest of the year. The aim of Ramadan is to help set you up with good habits for the rest of the year so you are stronger spiritually and mentally than you were before.’
What is allowed during Ramadan?
There’s a common misconception out there that Muslims don’t eat for the entire month of Ramadan.
Ramadan is incredibly significant (Picture: Danny Lawson/PA Wire)
Muslims can eat and drink, but only from before sunrise, which is known as suhoor or the morning meal, and after sunset, which is known as iftar or the evening meal.
Unlike Lent, Muslims don’t abstain from specific foods during Ramadan, other than the ones that are already prohibited, like pork products and alcohol – they can eat whatever they want for iftar and suhoor.
There is also a misconception that Muslims can’t shower during Ramadan, but this is not true. As long as they are careful not to swallow water, showering is allowed.
Although sexual activity isn’t allowed during daylight hours, Mahmood from Charity Right tells Metro.co.uk: ‘Hugging and kissing is allowed between spouses, as long as it does not lead to more than that.
‘This is so worshippers are not distracted during daylight hours and have more time for worship and for acts of goodness towards others.’
What isn’t allowed during Ramadan?
You cannot eat during daylight hours (Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Aside from eating during daylight hours, there are other things that Muslims cannot do during Ramadan.
Because it’s something that you ingest through your mouth, smoking counts as breaking your fast. This also applies to all other drugs, whether inhaled, snorted or injected – this is also why Muslims can’t drink water or chew gum during Ramadan.
There is no clear rule about brushing teeth during Ramadan, but Mahmood explains: ‘Some Muslims abstain from using toothpaste and mouthwash whilst fasting, however, as long as neither product is ingested, there is no official rule stating whether or not these are prohibited.
‘Alternatively, Miswak, a teeth cleaning twig, is used by some to avoid error.’
Additionally, Muslims can’t take medicine during Ramadan. This is more about popping ibuprofen if you have a headache, or taking Pepto Bismol if you feel bloated – if you’re sick or taking medication for a long term condition then you’re exempt.
Another grey area about what is or isn’t allowed during Ramadan is listening to music. Some Muslims will not listen to music while fasting, while others will cut down on how much music they listen to.
Mahmood explained to Metro.co.uk: ‘Whilst some Muslims believe that music is prohibited, those who do not, usually limit their intake during fasting hours, particularly music that includes foul language.’
If someone deliberately breaks fast during Ramadan, they must go through Kaffaraah, which means ‘atonement’ or ‘expiation’.
This involves fasting for 60 consecutive days or feeding 60 needy people or giving in charity the amount equal to the cost of feeding 60 needy people.
Who is exempt from fasting?
Young children, people on prescription medicines, people on grueling journeys, the infirm, the elderly, and pregnant women, as well as women on their period, are exempt from the rules of Ramadan.
Young children are exempt from fasting (Picture: Getty)
However, if a woman is unable to adhere to the rules of Ramadan because she’s feeding her baby, or an old person is too frail to enter into Ramadan, they have to make up for it.
The woman has to fast at a later stage for the same number of days she’s missed, as well as feed a person in need (through food or monetary donations) every day for the Ramadan dates she missed.
The frail person has to feed a person for the equivalent number of days they have missed.
MORE : Five tips for how to sleep better during Ramadan
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There are some strict rules that Muslims must follow.