A Beginners Guide to Ramadan

New to Ramadan or want to brush up on the basics? You can DOWNLOAD this little Sheffield New Muslims booklet; in shaa Allah it will be a useful guide: A Beginners Guide to Ramadan

A Beginner’s Guide to


“Adapted from A Beginners Guide to Ramadan” by LNM 2010

“Oh you who have believed, decreed upon you is fasting as it was decreed upon those before you that you may become righteous.” (Surah Al-Baqarah, 2:186)

 1. Introduction

In the Name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful. All praise is due to Allah, the Lord and Creator of the worlds. To Him we turn in repentance and ask for guidance. Upon Him we rely and to Him we will return. Oh Allah, bless Muhammad, Your Messenger and Prophet, his family, his Companions and all who follow Your guidance.

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. Fasting (Sawm in Arabic) during this month is one of the five fundamental Pillars of Islam, as mentioned in a Hadith narrated by Ibn `Umar:

Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) said: “Islam is based on five (principles):

  1. To testify that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah; and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.
  2. To establish the (obligatory) prayers (dutifully and perfectly).
  3. To pay Zakat (i.e. obligatory charity).
  4. To observe the fast during the month of Ramadan.
  5. To perform Hajj. (i.e. pilgrimage to Makkah)

(Sahih al-Bukhari Volume 1, Book 2, Number 7)

Ramadan is a blessed month, which is of great benefit to us in both this life and the next. It is the month of fasting, prayer, reflection and remembrance of Allah, the Exalted. It is a chance for us to draw close to Him and re-discover the purpose for our existence. Anyone who fasts the whole of the month of Ramadan sincerely and correctly will have their previous wrongs forgiven.

2. Beginning of the month and its duration

As the Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar, the months are determined by the cycles of the moon and every new moon represents a new month. The fasting of Ramadan becomes obligatory by either the completion of the thirty days of Sha’ban (the previous month) or by the sighting of the crescent by a trustworthy man. And, if the crescent is sighted in one district but not another and the two districts are in the same region, the ruling holds for both.

With the advancement of science in the modern era, methods for sighting and calculating the birth of the new moon have become more sophisticated, leading Muslim scholars to have different opinions on the correct way to decide when the new month has arrived. As a result, the community sometimes differs about which days to start and end the fast and this may also may cause `Eid (the festival at the end of Ramadan) to be celebrated on different days in different mosques. This can cause confusion for new Muslims (and even for not-so-new Muslims). It is however allowed for a Muslim to follow their local mosque in these matters and in that way to consider their fasts as valid and complete.

3. The obligation to fast during Ramadan

Every person who has reached the age of puberty, is of sound mind, is Muslim, is capable of fasting and who knows that the month of Ramadan has started is obliged to fast.

Children should be encouraged to fast from the age of seven and admonished if they don’t do it from the age of ten, if they are physically able to fast.

4. Those exempt from fasting

There are two types of exceptions from fasting; those who are not allowed to fast and those who have permission to not fast.

The following people are not allowed to fast: anyone who is menstruating; bleeding following childbirth; too weak or ill to fast, to the extent that it is feared that they will die if they do not break the fast; and pregnant or nursing women, who fear that they or their babies will be harmed if they fast.

Those who have permission not to fast are: people who are travelling a lengthy distance (unless the journey starts after dawn); those who are sick, pregnant, or breast-feeding and have reason to believe it may harm themselves or the child; those who are overwhelmed by hunger or thirst and those who have to take medicine between Fajr (the morning prayer) and Maghrib (the sunset prayer) and cannot avoid doing so.

Anyone who breaks their fast – whether or not for a valid reason – has to make up the fast when they are able to, except for children, the insane and someone who was not a Muslim at the time of the fast. It is recommended to perform the make-up fasts in succession and as soon as possible.

If a fast is broken without a legitimate reason, it is obligatory to make the days up after the end of Ramadan. Depending on the reason, the person may have to free a slave, fast for two months in a row or feed 60 poor people.

5. Description of fasting

‘Fasting’ for a Muslim means no eating, drinking or having sexual relations from the beginning of the time for the Fajr (morning) prayer until the beginning of the time for the Maghrib (sunset) prayer. In other words from the first light of dawn until sunset.

As with all acts of worship, fasting should be done with the correct intention. You should make the intention to fast the obligatory fast of Ramadan every day in your heart before you start to fast.

If you do any of the following during the time for fasting, you will have broken your fast: eating or drinking intentionally, sexual intercourse, smoking, taking medicine or chewing flavoured gum. No substance should enter the body through any orifice (mouth, nose, ear, anus, vagina or penis) other than saliva and air.

Wilful ejaculation and vomiting also break the fast.

The Prophet (peace be upon him) continued to clean his teeth while fasting. So you may also do so, as long as you do it without excessive rinsing of the mouth, because if you swallow some of the water it would break your fast.

If you eat or drink a little or a lot out of forgetfulness or ignorance, your fast is not broken.

The times of the fast and prayers can be found here.

6. Adab (Etiquettes) of fasting

Fasting is also more than just abstaining from eating, drinking and sexual relations. It is a process that should help you to discipline yourself and enable your mind to be in control of your body. This will help you to become a better Muslim and ultimately closer to Allah. A person who is fasting should try to avoid all sins – both minor and major. Of course, sins should always be avoided, but it is especially important during Ramadan, if more than just hunger and thirst are to be the result of this blessed month.

The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said,

“Fasting is a shield (or a screen or a shelter). So, a person observing fasting should avoid sexual relations and should not behave foolishly and impudently, and if somebody fights with him or abuses him, he should tell him twice, ‘I am fasting.” The Prophet (peace be upon him) added, “By Him in Whose Hands my soul is, the smell coming from the mouth of a fasting person is better in the sight of Allah than the smell of musk. (Allah says about the fasting person), ‘He has left his food, drink and desires for My sake. The fast is for Me. So I will reward (the fasting person) for it and the reward of good deeds is multiplied ten times.”

(Sahih Muslim Volume 3, Book 31, Number 118)

7. Suhoor and Iftar

Suhoor is the meal taken before the beginning of the fast in the morning before the Fajr prayer. It is recommended to delay Suhoor to the latest time possible, close to dawn, as long as eating does not continue past the beginning of the time for the Fajr prayer. Scholars advocate to abstain from eating several minutes before Fajr time to allow the mouth to clear of any food remnants. This meal was emphasised as important by the Prophet (peace be upon him), due to its blessings. It does not invalidate your fast if you miss Suhoor.

Iftar is food that is taken to break the fast, and it is done at the beginning of the time for the Maghrib (sunset) prayer. It is strongly recommended to eat something as soon as the time for the prayer starts (at sunset). It is Sunnah (the practice of the Prophet, peace be upon him) to eat an odd number of dates and/or to drink water at this time, before praying the Maghrib prayer. But any food or drink that is Halal is acceptable. Missing or delaying this meal does not invalidate the fast, but it is strongly disliked to do so. It is also recommended to provide Iftar for other fasting people and to eat with them if you are able to.

8. Good deeds in Ramadan

Good deeds in Ramadan are multiplied in reward many times over. As mentioned in the above Hadith (a report about the Prophet, peace be upon him), the fast is for Allah alone. Most people have time during their day when no-one can see them, when no-one would know if they ate or not; however whatever they do is witnessed in full by Allah.

Our Prophet (peace be upon him) is reported to have said: “It is the month of patience, and the reward of patience is Paradise.”

He (peace be upon him) used to give more in charity in Ramadan than any other month and gave the most during the last ten days. It is recommended to be extra generous to your family in Ramadan and to be good to relatives and neighbours.

It is a good time to read more Qur’an and to increase your Dhikr (remembrance of Allah. This can be done in a number of ways, such as reciting the Qur’an, reflecting upon the meaning of the Qur’an and Allah’s Names, Attributes and creation, reading supplications and performing optional prayers).

It is important to not overburden yourself with extra deeds. Thirty days is a long time and it is useful to plan ahead and think about your limits. The best advice is to try and slowly increase your extra deeds as the month goes on, so by the end you achieve the target you set yourself. It is too easy to get carried away at the beginning and ‘burn out’ before the end.

You should refrain from lying and backbiting whilst fasting, and this is emphasized.

Kissing is also disliked, and it becomes unlawful if it is possible that it may lead to ejaculation or sexual intercourse.

9. Tarawih

Tarawih is a voluntary prayer that is performed every night after the Isha prayer in mosques during Ramadan. It is not an obligation to attend a mosque to perform it, as it can also be performed at home. Most mosques try to complete one Juz’ (one 30th) of the Qur’an every night, so by the end of Ramadan they aim to have completed a recitation of the whole Book. It is prayed in slightly different ways from mosque to mosque, some pray 23 Rak`ahs (units of prayer, i.e. 20 Rak`ahs of prayer + 3 Rak`ahs of Witr) and others 11 Rak`ahs (8 Rak`ahs + 3 Rak`ahs of Witr), but is always done in sets of two Rak’ahs, ends in a odd number and usually lasts about an hour.

Many Muslims place a lot of emphasis on attending this prayer to the point it may be perceived as an obligation, but that is not the case, it is completely optional; although highly recommended.

10. The Night of Power

The Night of Power (Laylat-ul-Qadr in Arabic) is the night on which Allah sent down the Qur’an in its entirety to the lowest heaven and it is also the night when the first revelations were received by the Prophet (peace be upon him) from the angel Jibra’il (Gabriel, peace be upon him).

No-one knows the exact date, but many believe that it is the 27th night. Others believe it is one of odd nights of the last ten days of Ramadan, others one of the even nights, some believe it can be any night of Ramadan and others believe it changes year to year.

On this night many mosques have extra programmes of Dhikr (remembrance of Allah) and prayer. It is believed that a good deed is rewarded at least 1,000 times more than usual on this night, as Allah states in the Qur’an that it is ‘…better than a thousand months.’ (Surah Al-Qadr 97:3). So it is important to make an effort to perform extra acts of worship on this night.

It is important also to remember that the Islamic day starts at sunset of the night before and not at midnight.

11. `Itikaf (seclusion in the mosque)

`Itikaf is performed by those who are able to, in the last ten days of Ramadan. It is not obligatory, but is recommended and was the practice of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and his Companions (may Allah be pleased with them all). Many mosques will provide facilities for `Itikaf. This entails staying in the mosque for a minimum of one full day, with the intention of doing it to get closer to Allah. You may of course leave the mosque to go to the bathroom or for other urgent matters. Those in `Itikaf should be engaged in remembrance of Allah (Dhikr), doing extra Salah (prayer), reciting and studying the Qur’an, etc.

12. `Eid-ul-Fitr

`Eid-ul-Fitr is the festival on the first day of the month after Ramadan (known as Shawwal). It is not permissible to fast on this day. Early in the morning after sunrise, a prayer is performed in the mosques and it is recommended that everyone should attend, men and women (even menstruating women, if the mosque provides a place for them). Everyone should wear their best clean clothes (remaining within the Islamic clothing guidelines) and men should wear perfume. Before attending the prayer it is advised to have Ghusl (a ritual bath) and clean your teeth.

13. Zakat-ul-Fitr

This is an obligatory charitable payment, which must be paid before the `Eid prayer and is mainly used to feed the poor. Ask at your local mosque for details of how to pay it and how much it is. It varies every year, but it is only a small amount; roughly equivalent to the amount needed to feed a person a normal meal. It has to be paid on behalf of each member of the household, young and old. It should be paid by the man responsible for the household, but if there isn’t a Muslim man responsible for the household, the women have to pay their own Zakat–ul-Fitr.

14. Advice about food during Ramadan

It is very important to eat a healthy diet during Ramadan that can sustain you. Fasting can be very good for your health if done properly, but eating junk or poor quality food can make the fast harder and be bad for your health. The NHS have issued a booklet containing advice on what to eat and how to stay healthy during Ramadan. This can be found at the following website: http://tinyurl.com/ramadanhealthguide

15. Du`a (supplication) at the time of breaking the fast

The following Du`a is advised to be said just before breaking the fast:
اللّھُمَّ إنّي لكَ صُمْتُ وَبِكَ آمَنْتُ وَعَلَيكَ تَوَكَّلْتُ وَعَلَى رِزْقِكَ أفْطَرْتُ
(Allahumma inee laka Sumtu wa bika aamantu wa `alika tawakkaltu wa `alaa rizqika afTartu.)
“Oh Allah, indeed for You I have fasted and in You I have believed and upon You I have relied and with Your provision I have broken my fast”.


Adab – manners or etiquette.

Dhikr – Remembrance of Allah. This can be done in a number of ways, such as reciting the Qur’an, reflecting upon the meaning of the Qur’an and Allah’s Names, Attributes and creation, reading supplications and performing optional prayers

`Eid – Festival. There are only two main festivals in the Islamic calendar, the first at the end of Ramadan (which is called `Eid-ul-Fitr) and the second to celebrate the Hajj (which is called `Eid-ul-Adha).

Hadith – Report about the Prophet (peace be upon him), which could be a report about his actions or his words or his tacit approval of something. This is the main source used by scholars to understand the Prophet’s Sunnah (what he did) and it is the second source of knowledge about Islam after the Qur’an.

Imam – Literally: a leader; but commonly referring to someone who is appointed to lead the prayers in the mosque. It is also a term that can be used for anyone leading prayers or a respected scholar.

`Itikaf – seclusion in the mosque (see section 10)

Jibra’il – The angel Gabriel

Laylat-ul-Qadr – The Night of Power (see section 9)

Sahih al-Bukhari – The most reliable collection of Hadith according to the majority of Muslim scholars.

Sahih Muslim – The second most reliable collect of Hadith.

Sawm – Fasting

Tarawih – The prayers done in the mosque after the night prayer during Ramadan (see section 8)