Ramadan, the fasting month for Muslims worldwide, is the 9th month of the Islamic lunar calendar, each month being twenty-nine or thirty days depending on the physical sighting of the new crescent which will be sought at sunset on Saturday 2nd April. The moon will be quite far north and not easy to sight but it’s expected that the first day of Ramadan will be Sunday 3rd April 2021.
Ramadan is a month both of spiritual renewal and that individual transformation that adherents strive to maintain throughout the year; so it serves as an annual refresher in self-restraint and discipline, strengthening relationships through fostering one’s personal relationship with the Divine. It’s a time for Muslims to reset their priorities and reflect on the Qur’ānic question: “Where, then, are you going?” A time, too, to review one’s direction in life in a state of self-discipline, inward calm and clarity, and heightened mindfulness of God. That focus on self must be matched with a selfless dedication to others.
Fasting is the religious obligation on all healthy adult Muslims, and is similar to the fasting traditions of many other faiths. In place of consumption it seeks to focus on a deeper self-discipline and gratitude to God for the abundance of His blessings; for the gifts of life and good health, and for helping us provide for those in need. It fosters empathy and compassion for those requiring food, clothing and shelter, and helps us live with generosity and solidarity with the deprived and most vulnerable, and towards an intimate relationship with the Divine.
Fasting involves abstaining from eating, drinking, and sexual activity from dawn until sunset, which in New Zealand this year lasts about 12 hours from approximately 5:40am to about 6:00pm (days will shorten as the month progresses). Night prayers, reading and reflecting on the Holy Qur’ān, and an increase in the practice of one’s faith are features of the holy month. Physical restraint complements a mental and spiritual reset: essentially a ‘detox’ of mind, body and soul. You are in the world but not of the world. Ultimately, it is the fasting of the heart from all inward ills: from arrogance and envy to slander and selfishness. Divine reward is reserved for each individual’s Divinely-witnessed sacrifice.
Employers may consider adjusting working arrangements for Muslim colleagues, such as allowing for an early start and early finish or allowing working through lunchtime to return home for fast-breaking. At the same time, work must continue. Employees have duties entrusted to them by employers, and fulfilling those duties is a spiritual concern. Each day culminates in the breaking of the fast, preceded by moments for reflection and supplication to God. Dates, nuts and fruits are the common snacks for fast-breaking. As a kind of invitation, Colleagues might carry out a trial abstinence for their individual benefit or in solidarity for a cause or the needy, or for the acknowledged health benefits of fasting.
Ramadan ends with the annual festival of Eid, which includes prayers in congregation and a sermon followed by celebrations (all now, Covid-19 permitting). As with the start of the month, that day will be determined by the sighting of the new crescent. This will be sought at sunset on 1st May, when it will be just a few hours old, so Eid will likely be on the 3rd May.
The month of Ramadan is a time of commitment, compassion, sharing and celebration, and now, in these testing times, a time of human solidarity.
Notes supplied by Aarif Rasheed, former trustee, and Anthony Green, Trustee of the Religious Diversity Centre
An additional Note:
*It is possible that, in the event of a resurgence in COVID-19, restrictions may mean a very different Ramadan, if it should happen that mosques are required to be closed. Such a situation would result in the cancellations of all congregational prayers including the cancellation of Ramadan night prayers at all mosques and Islamic centres, all communal fast- breaking and all communal activities. This was the case in 2021.
In addition, the annual festival of Eid, like Friday prayers, can only be formed in congregation. Again, if there were a resurgence of COVID-19 cases, there would probably be no Eid prayers able to be performed depending on government restrictions. Nevertheless, should that be the case, Muslims believe that they would continue to receive the same or even greater reward as if all these prayers were performed, in addition to the great reward for complying with religious obligations to uphold safety and restrictions in the interests of the country’s overall health. This is based on the foundational objective of the Islamic Shariah which is the preservation of life.