It is the Holy month of fasting in the Muslim calendar. Abstinence from food, drink and sex from sunrise to sunset are the obvious to do. However, abstinence from lying, anger, cheating and all “bad” traits is to be observed.

Contrary to what you would expect, Muslims pray for this month to come and are delighted when it does. There is no, “oh no! here it comes again” but some very positive “Ramadan Mubarak/Ramadan Kareem” in the air. It is almost as if ignoring all the hardship of the fast so much so that even kids start getting excited and focus on the positives…aka the month of blessings.

People who don’t eat halal all year strive to eat halal during the month of Ramadan.

People who don’t pray five times a day, strive to, during Ramadan. Men try and pray in congregation as much as they can. They also offer the “Tarawih”, a special prayer after the last Muslim prayer, Isha, every night when the Quran is recited….the whole Quran is completed during the Tarawih prayers during Ramadan.

So Muslims wake up before the first prayer of the day, Fajr, and eat “Sehri” which is a big meal before their fast starts. The fast starts with the Fajr or sunrise prayer and ends with the 4th prayer of the day or Maghrib/sunset prayer.

A lot of my friends are shocked to know that we don’t drink water either, contrary to the Jewish or Christian fast. We don’t ingest ANYTHING during the prescribed hours. And then, after sunset you can eat like a dog till sunrise and in fact are instructed to eat before you fast…some people keep a fast without waking up at sunrise as it is hard for them…however, that is not encouraged at all and rather looked down upon by scholars as well as doctors, I am sure!

One is also to give Zaka’at or charity (2.5% of one’s wealth) during the month of Ramadan. Zaka’at is one of the five pillars of Islam including Fasting. They are:

(1) Believing in the Oneness of God.
(2) Fasting
(3) Zaka’at or charity
(4) Prayers, five times a day
(5) Hajj or the once in a lifetime pilgrimage to Makkah or as is commonly spelled, Mecca.

One is to pray a lot during this month as it is believed that God is super forgiving and generous in terms of bestowing his followers with benefits and goodies.

One would like to think that Muslims are especially careful and peaceful in this month, yet there have been numerous Shia Sunni clashes and bombings in the past in Muslim nations and numerous have died in the face of terrorism.

The 1993 Mumbai bomb blasts, proven to have been masterminded by Muslim gangsters, were also carried out during the month of Ramadan.

In 2005, after the devastating earthquake in Pakistan, people had started looting the homes of the dead and there was wide spread theft and frenzy.

However, I must admit that one does feel pure and peaceful and it is really not hard. The act of fasting for me, is so disciplinary and soul-searching that I have fasted non stop since the age of 12.

If you are pregnant or sick or old or bleeding (for instance, menstruation), you are commanded not to fast. However in the case of menstruation, women are asked to fast later to redeem their lost fasts…(I do think that is a bit unfair since it is so much easier to fast when everyone else is fasting!)

Anyhow, families get closer as they eat in the morning during Sehr and then in the evening during the breaking of the fast or “Iftar”. In Pakistan, iftar parties are really common where one family invites another family to break their fast with them. There is a big reward for helping a fasting person break his fast…to provide food for them.

Some common dishes that suddenly appear during Ramadan are:

Fruit Chaat: A fruit salad with a great blend of spices and orange juice. My absolute favorite and I will be making some in a few hours.

Dahi bhade: Fritters made out of chickpea flour submerged in a spiced up plain yogurt and topped with tamarind sauce.

Pakoras: Just the fritters made out of chickpea flour. Sometimes they are potato fritters or other veggies are inserted.

These are famous snacks.

Also, Muslims break their fast symbolically with dates since the Holy Prophet (PBUH) is said to have done so himself.

What else…I am fasting and talking about food…so I think I should stop..it is my first fast and is a bit hard. :o(

Either way, just wanted to answer some common questions I have faced throughout my stay in the West regarding a Muslim fast by non-Muslims.