With Ramadan upon us, we wanted to find out what it means to those observing it. So we sat down with Abdi Elmi, one of our Team Members at The Ascent to find out more and to hear what Ramadan means to him.
IconInc: Tell us a bit about yourself, your cultural and religious background.
Abdi: Hi, I’m Abdi Elmi, I have been working at IconInc The Ascent for over 10 months, I really enjoy working for such an inclusive company. Outside of work, I enjoy socialising with friends and spending time with my family. I was born in the Netherlands from Somali descent, and grew up in Liverpool. I can proudly say I am born and raised a Muslim! From my wonderful parents, who are also both practising Muslims.
IconInc: What is Ramadan, and what does it mean to you?
Abdi: Ramadan for me and many Muslims is an important month for Muslims. It is a month where Muslims don’t eat and drink during daylight hours. It was the month when the Quran was revealed to Mohamed (PBUH). Furthermore, it is a special time of the year for me, I really enjoy it. Everyone is in a great mood, and we get great family time. Nothing else matters at this time, even though all you are cutting out is food and drink, it makes a big difference.
IconInc: When is Ramadan? Why do the start and end dates differ?
Abdi: It is hard to explain, but Ramadan is simply just a month. The dates differ because Muslims follow a lunar calendar which is based around the moon’s phases, and it is 11 days shorter than the Gregorian calendar. Each year, the start of Ramadan will be approximately 11 days before the year prior. This year should be quite easy compared to previous years!
IconInc: Oh really? Why is that?
Abdi: Well, we look for the first thread of daylight (break of daylight) to stop eating. And at sunset, we can begin to eat. This can be difficult in big cities due to light pollution. The times are consistent with our daily prayers. So, it will easier this year because, for example, if you look at Ramadan in 2016 - it fell in the middle of summer so the days (when we could not eat) were really long- 19 hours. Compared with this year, an early spring Ramadan, there are a couple more hours of darkness.
IconInc: What are Muslims supposed to do during Ramadan?
Abdi: The most obvious thing is no food or drink during daylight hours. In order for your fast to be accepted, you must pray 5 times a day. There is a special night prayer during Ramadan which is called Taraweeh. The 5 daily prayers are obligatory, but the night prayer is optional, but there are lots of spiritual rewards from doing it. We should read the Quran as much as possible. Making Dua which is a lone prayer. After prayer, we often listen to a Sheikh’s Islamic and life sermons which are about anything current, and they aid us in how to conduct ourselves to be the best Muslims possible in today’s society. During Ramadan, your behaviour has to be immaculate. Anything such as swearing, confrontation, smoking, sex, would break your fast. We should try to be more generous in giving, charity, helping people. For example, a good deed could be as easy and simple as opening a door for a stranger. When you die, on judgement day, your good deeds and bad deeds are put on scales and weighed against each other, so the more good deeds you build up, the better. Ramadan is a time for spiritual discipline and through your actions, you can think on your relationship with God. It is a great time to heal relationships and have good quality time with loved ones. Forgiveness is a really important thing in Islam because God forgives, so who are we not to as well?
IconInc: Does fasting make you different within your community?
Abdi: It does encourage curiosity from non-Muslims who I live around and work with. Lots of people ask questions because food and drink are essentials, so people are curious. In a street where I grew up, there were 4 Muslim families, 3 of whom (including us) were religious and lots of other non-Muslim residents. Over Ramadan, we would give our neighbours food, both to other Muslims and non-Muslim families, so this could demonstrate to our neighbours what we were doing at this time. At work, obviously, the team are curious and have been asking questions about what I will be doing during this time. They all see it as a good difference! I think the Ramadan period can show people from different religions, what Muslims are actually about and the true meaning of Islam because in the Prophet’s (PBUH) community, there were non-Muslims and in Islam, your neighbour is seen as your extended family. Treating your neighbour well is so important.
IconInc: Should all Muslims fast?
Abdi: Yes. There are some exceptions as in for men - if sick in hospital, if you are on regular medication or if travelling and for women, if you are menstruating, pregnant and also children are exempt. But all Muslims should fast during Ramadan.
IconInc: Can you drink water during the fasting period?
Abdi: No! Nil by mouth. No water, coffee, chewing gum, smoking. Nothing!
IconInc: Is there anything non-Muslims can do to help you during this time?
Abdi: I think the basic respectfulness- as in not eating around someone who is fasting. At work, obviously, my rota has been adjusted, so I am working nights or late shifts which is helpful, but apart from that, not really. Just being aware of it.
IconInc: How would you typically break your fast each day, and what would you do?
Abdi: We all have to break our fast the same way! With dates. And an odd number of dates. Because that is the way the Prophet did it. I would eat around 3 dates with a glass of water and then pray. After prayer, you would eat! My mum and sisters would cook a big meal, perhaps rice and lamb with salad and very spicy sauce, samosas. Cut up fruit is very popular. Watermelon and cucumber are popular because you’d try to take in as much water as possible. My mum makes a fruit punch or mango lassi. We’d all eat together, sit down and chat and spend time together.
IconInc: Will you lose weight during Ramadan?
Abdi: It seems you should, but it is possible that you put on weight. Of course, we do still eat and if you overeat during the time you can, you can gain weight.
IconInc: What is Eid, when is it celebrated, and what is your typical Eid celebration?
Abdi: Eid is - well, there are 2 Eid’s. Eid means festival! It is a celebration. The first one is the day after Ramadan ends, which is called Eid Al- Fitr which means the feast of breaking the fast. It is a 3-day celebration, celebrating the end of Ramadan. Typically, we go to the Mosque to say an Eid prayer, and then we all gather at my Grandmothers house, give out money to the kids and eat a big feast and see as many family and friends as possible. Everyone will be happy and relaxed and celebrating. The second Eid is called Eid Ul- Adha. This Eid follows the 10-day pilgrimage to Medina and Mecca which is encouraged for Muslims (if able financially etc), at least once in your lifetime. This happens in the month of Dhu Al -Hijjah between 1st and 9th day. On the 9th day (the day of Arafah), you fast and the 10th day is Eid. And this is the biggest celebration which lasts for 5 days!