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Ramadan has begun: here's what you can and can't do

Can you really not drink throughout the day? When does the daily fast begin and when does it end? What do you eat after sunset? Curiosities and exemptions on the holy month of Islam

© Agenzia Nova - Reproduction reserved

Ramadan is the name of the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, the only one mentioned in the Koran, which gives its name to the obligatory fasting for the approximately 2 billion Muslims in the world during the day during the homonymous period. Fasting (sawm) it is one of the five pillars of Islam that every Muslim must observe together with the testimony of faith (shahadah)to prayer (ṣalat)almsgiving (zakat) and to pilgrimage (ḥajj) in Mecca. The obligation of fasting is incumbent on all healthy adult Muslims, but, since the time of the affirmation of Islam, it has always led to exceptions for certain categories of people and in certain "unfavorable" circumstances.

On the Facebook page of the Islamic Cultural Center of Italy, which manages the Monte Antenne mosque in Rome, we read the quotation of this prescription, taken from the second chapter (sura) of the Koran: "O you who believe, the fasting as it was prescribed for those who were before you, perhaps you will become fearful" (verse 183). In the next verse the exceptions are indicated, aimed at the sick, frail, workers and travellers. “But whoever is ill or travelling, should then fast for as many days – we read in verse 184 of the second sura of the Koran -. But for those who could hardly bear it, there is an atonement: the feeding of a poor man. And if someone gives more, it's good for him." The daily fast begins at sunrise and is broken at sunset with iftar, or with a glass of milk or water accompanied by an odd number of dates, followed by a rich meal. This year Ramadan began between March 22 and 23 and will end in thirty days. Early next month (Shawwal) Eid al Fitr is held (feast of breaking the fast), also known as the "little party", as opposed to the "big party" that takes place after the pilgrimage.

Fasting, however, does not just involve abstaining from food and drink. Indeed, the meaning of this practice is that of self-discipline and spiritual elevation through prayer and meditation. All those actions which involve the adherence of the believer to the earthly dimension and to the instincts that distinguish it, invalidating the fast for the current day are also prohibited: to cite a few examples, sexual intercourse, smoking, fits of anger, lies, slander, slander and war. In these cases, not all experts agree on the possibility of making up for the lost fasting day.

On the contrary, they exist cases of exemption from fasting explicitly foreseen for certain categories of people, in particular the elderly, the chronically ill and women who are breastfeeding or pregnant. Under such conditions, fasting need not be made up for, but may be replaced with the nourishment of a poor man. On the other hand, according to Islamic precepts, women in the menstrual period and travellers, a category to which caravans and ambassadors historically belonged, have to make up for the lost fasting days. All of them, therefore, are obliged to make up for the lost fasting days when they have returned to ordinary conditions. Today, the category of travelers has expanded considerably, extending, for example, to migrants and professional sportsmen, especially footballers who play for club teams from non-Muslim countries.

The semantic expansion that has led the word Ramadan to designate fasting practiced during the day belongs to the modern era, especially to the colonial phase that began in the XNUMXth century. This shift, however, is not typical only of non-Muslims and non-Arab speakers, but also of the Arabs of the Maghreb, among whom it is not infrequent to hear the expression "doing Ramadan" instead of "doing the obligatory fast in the month holy of Ramadan". Furthermore, in the former French colonies of North Africa, especially among the older generations who lived during the colonial period, one sometimes hears the saying "doing Lent" instead of "practicing fasting", referring to the custom, linguistically not too correct but widespread among the French of Algeria, to call it "the Lent of the Muslims".

The reason for the sacredness of the month of Ramadan lies in the fact that one of its nights is the so-called "Night of Destiny" (Laylat al Qadr, in Arabic), the night during which the Archangel Gabriel revealed the Koran to the Prophet of Islam, Mohammed (Muhammad). In the Koran it says that this night is "better than a thousand months", so prayer, good deeds or reading the sacred text are rewarded by God as if they lasted a thousand months. The location of the Night of Destiny, however, is not the same every year and also varies between Sunnis and Shias, but statistically it most often falls on the 27th night of the month. Ramadan falls at a different time in the Gregorian calendar each year because it is based on the phases of the moon.

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