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The holy month of Ramadan is upon us once again! It’s observed by Muslims all over the world for a period of 30 days where we most popularly abstain from eating and drinking from dawn to dusk. While there’re so many blog posts out there explaining what is fasting, and why we fast, this guide to Ramadan will explain what we do during this holy month of Ramadan in a more personal, easy-to-understand way.

So if you’d like to read about why Muslims fast, what this holy month signifies, plus all the fun stuff we get into during the month, grab your reading glasses, settle down, and read on!

First of all, what is fasting?

Most people know that fasting during the month of Ramadan involves abstinence from eating, drinking, and sexual intercourse from sunrise to sunset. Fasting is one of the 5 pillars of Islam, constituting the basic norms of Islamic practice.

Credits: @inspiration8039

However, we strive to abstain not only physically, but also mentally and emotionally. It’s a time when we try to practice saint-like patience when people annoy us, or when things don’t go our way. We try to swear less, think more positive thoughts, and refrain from watching mentally damaging content on TV or social media (cat videos are thankfully not on this list).

Ramadan is a month where some of us make conscious attempts to be better and be closer to God. If we weren’t observing the obligatory five prayers before, we’d aim to perform them now. If we find our Holy Qur’an covered in a thin sheen of dust, it’s time to pull it out of our bookshelves and start reading it again. Some take this opportunity to reflect on their deeds over the past year and resolve to start afresh and be better.

This year, Ramadan began on Saturday, 2nd April in Germany, and a day later for our family and friends in Southeast Asia. It’ll end on the 2-3rd May with a celebration of Eid, or Hari Raya Aidilfitri as we call it on our side of the world.

Yes, we don’t eat at all from sunrise to sunset. No, not even drink a drop of water.

Islam preaches equality. During the month of Ramadan, every Muslim regardless of status and social standings, fast and ask God for forgiveness for their past sins. When we’re hungry and thirsty, most of us are fortunate to be able to break our fasts with a spread of delicious food with our family and friends. However, our brothers and sisters in countries torn by conflict and poverty aren’t as lucky. Fasting during the month of Ramadan enables the privileged ones to experience hunger and thirst, think of those who are less fortunate, and help them in however they can. Plus be extra thankful for the blessings God has bestowed on them when they break their fast.

“Do young children and elderly fast too?”

Well, all able-bodied Muslims are required to fast. Exceptions can be made for these groups of people:

  • Children who haven’t reached puberty
  • Women who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or on their periods*
  • Travelling long-distance*
  • People who are physically and mentally incapable to fast
  • The elderly

*Have to make up their missed days before the next Ramadan

Of course, in order to ‘survive’ an entire day of fasting, we’d have to start somewhere. Children, even though they aren’t required to fast, are exposed at an early age. Parents don’t usually force them to fast, but encourage those who want to fast like everyone else.

Credits: Islamic Information Portal

Kids as young as 4-year-olds will first attempt to fast for just an hour or two. Once they’ve built some tolerance, they’d level up to fasting for half a day, or three-quarters of a day and finally they’ll graduate to a full day of fast! Woohoo!

Community Initiatives during Ramadan

In Singapore, mosques and local communities collaborate on various initiatives to help those in need throughout the month. Some initiatives included donation drives to raise money for daily necessities and new clothes, especially for the children for Hari Raya and spread the festive cheer. Some communities organise the collection of food items, to be made into hampers and then distributed across the neighbourhood to families who need them most.

Credit: Have Halal Will Travel

Many mosques in Singapore hand out bags of complimentary “Bubur Masjid” – nutritious, savoury congee/porridge for people from all walks of life, yes non-Muslims are most definitely welcomed to enjoy them too.

Credits: Azhar Mahfof

Often, we’d get two bags of Bubur Masjid each, enough to warm the tummies of a family. Sometimes, we’d share a pack with our neighbours who’d trade with Bubur Masjid from another mosque, or other yummy treats, both store-bought or homemade. Growing up, I was most busy during the evenings of Ramadan, right before we broke our fast. I’d either have to deliver food to a neighbour’s house, or a neighbour had asked to come over so they could shower us with food and occasional drinks.

Before the pandemic, some mosques host daily iftar or breaking of the fast, feast. Many would flock into the mosque to listen to short sermons, pray, and even catch up with fellow mosque-going friends before iftar. Obligatory prayers, and special prayers known as the “tarawih” follow. Men, women, and children are all welcomed to the mosque to break their fasts and perform prayers.

Fun things we get into with friends and family

Iftar with our family and friends during Ramadan is a huge affair. For the past two pandemic years, we’ve been mostly breaking fast at home or with intimate groups of people. This year though will be exciting because the restrictions are slowly loosening up, and more people are heading out to restaurants to eat!

It’s a wonderful opportunity to ask friends we otherwise are too busy to see normally, to catch up during iftar! It had been a treat to see my Instagram Stories alight with friends heading out with groups of more than the 5 people we’ve been used to for more than a year now. Shifting to life after the pandemic is well underway!

Credit: Today Online

There’s also the huge Ramadan bazaar in Geylang Serai, selling all sorts of food, snacks, festive treats, and clothes! It was highly popular before the pandemic, and a place we’d recommend tourists to go to soak in the local atmosphere (pun intended ‘cos Singapore is so hot and humid).

After a two-year hiatus, the Geylang Bazaar has resumed operations, albeit on a smaller scale. Nowadays, there’re pop-up bazaars in many heartland neighbourhoods, so people don’t usually have to travel east for the Geylang Bazaar. Luckily for me, the closest bazaar to my family home is in Geylang.

What’s a typical day like for me during the month of Ramadan?

5 AM: When I lived with my family, we woke up for a pre-dawn meal. You can call it an early breakfast to help tide us through the rest of the day. I was never a morning person, so I’d stick to something light but filling. Then I’ll barely stay awake for morning prayers, before sneaking a cat nap for the next hour or so.

8 AM: My husband and I work from home most days. So I start the day with emails and then dive into the heavy, brain cells-killing tasks. I’m fresher and more inspired to write or go through edits than later on during the day.

Reorganising my spices, and discovered my obsession with Baba’s. Care to sponsor me some yummy stuff? (Jokes)

12 PM: No lunch for us, but I use this time for chores. Clean a little, do laundry, or think of what to cook for dinner in the evening. Then it’s back to work. When I lived in the Middle East, people used to knock off work at 2 or 3 pm. Shops and services didn’t open till 4 pm, but it stays open later than usual. Unfortunately, we don’t have such luxuries in both Singapore and Germany, so we got to soldier on.

3 PM: Usually, 3 pm is when I take a short 10-minute break to refill my mug, browse through social media, or annoy my husband. If I have no meetings to attend, I use this time to start prepping ingredients for dinner. In our home, we usually have a heavy lunch, and occasionally a quick dinner. During Ramadan, I decided to be quite extravagant and cook special things to break our fasts.

6 PM: Done with work for the day! And now the cooking begins. I’ve decided that this year I’d learn to do some meal planning for the week. We stockpile our meat products once a month and replenish fruits and vegetables once a week if needed. At least I know what I have, so I can plan accordingly.

A peek at our iftar menu one evening… the theme is Mexi-Malay.

8 PM: Iftar time! My husband will set the table, while I sneak a quick pic before my ravenous husband digs in, and we’d enjoy an evening meal together. And then off to pray, and do whatever that is we do to wind down at night!

What do we usually eat for iftar at home during Ramadan?

We’d break our fasts with sweet dates and warm tea. Mum said that it’s best to drink something warm and gentle to the stomach after a whole day of not eating or drinking anything.

Side dishes: Something fried. Nothing too oily though, cos we both hate food that’s soaked in oil. Usually, we’d have air-fried nuggets or fries, croquettes, and other yummy goodies we find in the supermarkets.

Mains: There’s always some form of carbs – rice, noodles, or pasta. Meat – chicken, beef, or salmon (yes, highly specific because it’s the only fillet we buy from the supermarket – if you have any recommendations for yummy fish fillets, do hit me up in the comments!)

Veggies: I try my very best to incorporate veggies into our meals, but the husband and I have a difficult time trying to agree on veggies we both liked. Sometimes I’d make soup… with spinach. Does that count?

End off with something sweet: I’m not a fan of desserts, but the husband is. So, it depends on what we have at home. Most of the time it’s fruits, or it could be whatever yummy items we have in our snack stash.

So there you go!

That’s Ramadan for me in a nutshell! Hope you’ve enjoyed my personal guide to Ramadan. Different people have varied ways of celebrating Ramadan, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below! What do you normally have for iftar? Are there Ramadan bazaars where you’re from? I’d love to read about them all!