Ramadan will coincide with the main exam period from 2014 to 2018 and a large percentage of Muslim students will be combining the challenges of exams with fasting and other religious observance. See the Equality Challenge Unit's information page Accommodating religious practice during the exam period: Ramadan for guidance.
Ramadan, the ninth month in the Muslim lunar calendar, is a time when Muslims make an extra effort to improve themselves as human beings and practice their religion as best they can. Ramadan is the holiest month in the Islamic calendar, the time when the Qur’an was first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad and in which the most special night of the year, Laylat-ul-Qadr happens. Muslims fast during the daylight hours throughout the month, an obligatory element in the practice of Islam. In 2012 Ramadan is from Friday 20 July – Sunday 19 August (first and last date may vary)
For Muslims, the month of Ramadan feels very different to other times of the year, as the daily routine is changed quite dramatically. All Muslims who are physically mature and healthy and for whom it is not unsafe, fast during the daylight hours. Physically, this means that from the very start of dawn until the sun has set, people abstain from eating, drinking, smoking, chewing and sexual relations. Rather than an exercise in deprivation, the idea is that a person is engaged in an act of worship and a way to discipline and improve the self. As well as the physical element of fasting, the spiritual element means people must make a great effort to avoid unpleasant behaviour such as lying, back-biting and cheating, while making an extra effort to be kind and charitable, to fight against the ego, to perform extra acts of worship and to appreciate what we have and what others do not have.
In the evenings, many people go to the mosque to perform extra prayers in congregation, called Tarawih prayers. Every night during these prayers, one thirtieth of the Qur’an is recited, so that by the end of the month, the entire Qur’an has been read. People wish each other ‘ Ramadan Kareem ’ or ‘ Ramadan Mubarak’, a successful, happy and blessed month.
During the last 10 days Muslims try and spend as much time worshipping in the mosque as possible, some spending the whole time there. It is also a very popular time for Muslims to visit Mecca and Medina.
In Muslim countries public life in general slows down, with people resting and concentrating on the fast during the day and perhaps going to work in the evening. For Muslims in Britain, although still fasting, life tends to carry on as normal, whether that’s going to work or to lectures for example.
A typical day for a fasting Muslim starts with a very early breakfast called sahoor . While it is still dark, before the beginning of dawn, breakfast is eaten. In the family home this might involve a whole meal with a variety of dishes; for a student, a glass of water or bowl of cereal may be more likely! Some Muslims then go to the mosque to do the dawn prayer and recite verses of the Qur’an while others stay at home to do it. Depending on the time many people then go back to bed, before carrying on the day as usual while fasting. Once the sun has set, which changes by a few minutes each day, the fast is broken as soon as possible with a meal called Iftar . Traditionally this is done with a glass of water and a date, but any Islamicly permissible food or drink does the trick. Some Muslims then wait a while to eat a proper meal, while others eat straight away. Usually, the fast is broken, sunset prayers are done and then a meal is eaten although this depends on what a person is doing. For example, if at work or in a lecture, the fast would be broken with a little food and/or drink and the meal eaten after. The evening, in terms of eating and drinking, goes back to normal until dawn, although Muslims often visit each other’s houses for a social Iftar , and then go to the mosque for Tarawih.
Will Ramadan impact on university life?
Non-Muslims should hopefully notice Ramadan by the excellent behaviour of Muslims! Practically, nothing will really change although it is important to remember that fasting can take time to adjust to physically. People may be more tired and smokers considerably more edgy than usual. Many Muslims avoid being around food and drink during the day, so social occasions and meetings that are centred on eating and drinking may be missed out, not through wanting to be anti-social but in order to concentrate on the fast.
Departments concerned with being inclusive to their members may prefer to organise such meetings after sunset, especially when Ramadan is at the start of term- a time when people are getting to know each other and the University. In terms of breaking the fast, Muslims may need to eat or drink a little during lectures or work hours, but this should not need to effect usual proceedings.
Colleges who provide breakfast to students could provide a packed ‘lunch’ for students to break their fasts with .
The end of Ramadan is marked by the celebration of Eid-ul-Fitr. Traditionally this is a family orientated day, when people visit their relatives and friends. Muslims go to special Eid prayers at the mosque in the morning to worship and give thanks, after which everyone wishes each other ‘ Eid mubarak ’, a blessed Eid. Muslims who can afford it give a special Eid day alms that goes to the poor, and may also give to charity in general. In addition, the yearly alms known as Zakat is often given on this day, which again goes to those in need. The rest of the day is spent eating celebratory foods and socialising. New clothes are usually worn and children are given some money and presents.
As this is a family day and a celebration, people like to take time off work or university for the day.
From an original article by Laura Zahra McDonald - Former Project Officer, Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 Consultation Project, University of York.
Updated by the Equality and Diversity Adviser May 2013