Why Do Muslims Fast During Ramadan?

Why Do Muslims Fast During Ramadan?

Like more than a billion fellow Muslims around the world, Sulley Muntari
began the monthlong fasting ritual of Ramadan on Aug. 22. Abstaining from
food or drink during daylight hours is challenging enough for the average
person, but for the Ghana-born Muntari, a professional soccer player with
Italy’s Serie A team Inter Milan, running over six miles per game on an
empty stomach might have proven to be too much to take. In his first match
after the start of Ramadan, the midfielder was removed from the game after
just half an hour of play.

Milan coach Jose Mourinho cited Muntari’s “lack of energy” on the pitch as
the reason for his removal, suggesting that “Ramadan has not arrived at the
ideal moment for a player to play a football match.” Mourinho hinted that he
may keep Muntari out matches for the rest of the month, angering Muslims and
troubling Inter Milan fans.

So what is this ritual that Muntari is jeopardizing his season over One of
the five pillars of faith for Muslims, Ramadan is the the ninth month of the
lunar calendar and the holiest period of the Islamic year. It’s thought to
be the month that the Qur’an was first revealed by God to the Islamic
Prophet Mohammed in the year 610 AD. Read “Soccer Star Benched for Fasting During Ramadan.”

The rules of Ramadan are fairly straightforward: For one month, all
practicing, able-bodies Muslims over the age of 12 are forbidden to eat or
drink from sunup to sundown. During this month, Muslims believe that the
gates of hell close — meaning the devil is unable to tempt them during a
month of discipline, charity and self-control. The objective of the fast,
which also prohibits participating in “sensual pleasures” such as smoking,
sex and even listening to music during daylight hours, is to diminish
believers’ dependence on material goods, purify their hearts and establish
solidarity with the poor to encourage charitable works during the year. It’s
as much a period of self-growth as of self-denial: Mohammed reportedly said
“He who does not abandon falsehood in word and action in accordance with
fasting, God has no need that he should abandon his food and drink.”

The first Ramadan is thought to have occurred during the middle of summer,
explaining why the root of its name translates into Arabic as “the
scorcher.” A typical day starts as early as 3am with the pre-dawn meal
called the sahur, usually rich in protein and carbohydrates to get the
faster through the long, foodless day. The rest of the day is spent reciting
prayers, abstaining from bad deeds and reading the Qu’ran. Fasters are
expected to read the entire holy book within the month and many Mosques have
taken to splitting it into thirty even portions recited in daily sermons.
The fast lasts until sundown — or until it’s too dark to “distinguish a
white thread from a black thread,” according to the Qu’ran — and is
broken with a small meal called an iftar which is followed by the Magrib
prayer before the fasters join their families and invite the poor for a
larger celebratory meal.

The breaking of the fast is often a decadent affair in wealthier Gulf
countries like the United Arab Emirates, where well-to-do Muslims gather in
air-conditioned tents, cruise ships or five star hotels to feast on
multi-course meals. In some countries, the fast carries the force of law: in
Algeria, six people were jailed last year for failing to observe the fast,
while in Iran authorities have shut down restaurants for not closing during
the day. Other places have their own unique requirements: when Ramadan falls
during the summer months, as it does this year, Muslims living in northern
countries face fasting through as much as 19 hours of daylight; Muslim
scholars have suggested that worshippers in these climes follow the daylight
hours of the nearest Muslim-majority nation.

The end of Ramadan is signaled by the sighting of the new moon that signals
the start of the next lunar month; it’s celebrated by a huge festival called
Eid al-fitr where entire villages celebrate
together. While Muslim leaders in Italy who criticized Mourinho’s decision
to pull his player argued that the “mental and psychological stability”
achieved though the discipline of Ramadan outweigh the physical strain of
the fast, for Muntari, Eid probably can’t come soon enough.

Read “How Many Religious Holidays Are Enough”