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This is a special time for members of our Muslim community who are celebrating an important month-long observance. In 2020, Ramadan begins the evening of April 23 and runs through the evening of May 23. Learn what Ramadan is, how it is celebrated and how COVID-19 may impact these celebrations.

Celebrating Ramadan

a student wearing a hijab speaks with a faculty member and colleague

Indiana University School of Medicine is dedicated to creating an environment that fosters inclusion and awareness of everyone’s cultures and religions. This is a special time for members of our Muslim community who are celebrating an important month-long observance. In 2020, Ramadan begins the evening of April 23 and runs through the evening of May 23. Learn what Ramadan is, how it is celebrated and how COVID-19 may impact these celebrations.

And to our Muslim community, Ramadan Mubarak (Have a blessed Ramadan)!

About Ramadan

Ramadan is considered the holiest month of the year for Muslims. It commemorates Allah (Arabic for God) revealing the first verses of the Quran, the Muslim holy book, to the prophet Muhammad in the year 610 A.D. During Ramadan, Muslims fast during daylight hours as a means of learning self-control, gratitude and compassion for those less fortunate. Ramadan is intended to be a month of spiritual rejuvenation and devotion, during which Muslims spend extra time reading the Quran and performing special prayers.

When does Ramadan take place?

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, which is based on a 12-month lunar year of approximately 354 days. Because the lunar year is 11 days shorter than the solar year, each lunar month shifts 11 days earlier each year. This year, the month-long fast of Ramadan is set to begin on April 23, a date based upon first sighting of the new moon’s crescent (or on astronomical calculation).

The Length and Purpose of Fasting

Muslims fast from pre-dawn to sunset, which means fasting for 13-to-14 hours a day for the entire month. The fast of Ramadan entails forgoing food and drink and abstaining from sex during fasting hours. For Muslims, Ramadan is a time to train both physically and spiritually by avoiding any negative acts such as gossiping, lying or arguing. The ultimate goal of fasting is gaining greater God-consciousness--in Arabic, taqwa-- a state of constant awareness of Allah. From this awareness, a person should gain self-restraint and a greater motivation to do good. In commemoration of the revelation of the Quran, Muslims attempt to read the entire holy book during Ramadan and gather nightly at mosques to hold special prayers during which the entire Quran is recited by the end of the month. Due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, these prayer meetings may occur online.

Who Fasts

All Muslims who have reached puberty are obliged to fast. However, people in situations where fasting would be a hardship are exempted. This includes anyone who is sick or traveling; women who are pregnant, nursing or menstruating; and older people who are too weak or ill to fast. Also exempted this year is anyone experiencing COVID-19 symptoms. Anyone who is exempted must make up the fast later, except for those who cannot fast due to age or chronic illness. Instead, they can feed a poor person for every day of fasting they miss.

While children are not required to fast, it is customary, beginning around seven years of age, to perform limited fasting such as fasting half days or on weekends. This trains them gradually and engenders a sense of inclusion during the month-long observance. Mosques often give special recognition to children who are fasting their first full day or first Ramadan.

Family Routines

A Muslim family rises well before dawn and eats a modest, breakfast-like meal called suhur. After the meal, the family performs the morning prayer and either goes back to bed or begins the day. At sunset, family members break the fast with a few dates and water, and depending on the culture, other light foods such as soup, appetizers or fruit. This is referred to as iftar. Breaking the fast with dates is the only strictly traditional culinary custom associated with Ramadan. It is interesting to note the suitability of dates for this purpose as they are an easily digestible, concentrated source of energy.

After performing sunset prayers, the family eats dinner. Inviting guests to break the fast or going to someone else’s house for iftar is very common in Ramadan but is not advised this year. Likewise, families may participate in taraweeh, the special nightly Ramadan prayer, remotely using virtual technologies.

Special Activities

During the nightly taraweeh, the mosque’s prayer leader recites at least one-thirtieth of the Quran so that by the end of the month, the entire Quran will have been recited. Since Ramadan is a time for Muslims to be especially charitable (and fasting helps Muslims feel compassion for the hungry), many mosques hold food drives or fundraisers for charity during Ramadan.

The Night of Power, known as Lailat al-Qadr, falls on one of the odd nights during the last 10 days of Ramadan, most widely observed on the 27th night, which is believed to be when the Quran was first revealed to the prophet Muhammad. Muslims engage in prayer vigils, Quranic recitation and contemplation throughout the entire night. Throughout Ramadan, mosques typically host many community dinners where Muslims can break their fast together, which is especially nice for students and the poor, and they may invite friends and neighbors of other faiths to join them. Community members are advised to check with local mosques and Islamic centers to find out if any gatherings (live or virtual) will be hosted this year.

Eid al-Fitr: Festival of Breaking the Fast

At the end of Ramadan, Muslims celebrate a major holiday called Eid al-Fitr (Festival of the Breaking of the Fast). It begins as Ramadan ends, this year on the evening of May 23, 2020. Children traditionally receive new clothes, money or gifts from parents, relatives and friends. On Eid day, a prayer and sermon are presented in the morning, followed by a community celebration, usually in a park or large hall. Food, games and presents for children typically mark this festive occasion. Please check with local mosques and Islamic centers to find out how Eid al-Fitr will be celebrated this year.

Webinar Opportunity

Islamic Networks Group (ING) is hosting a Facebook Live webinar on Ramadan, the workplace and COVID-19 on Thursday, April 23, from noon to 12:45 pm. This live-streamed discussion will shine a light on Ramadan and the basics of fasting and other related practices before addressing this year’s unique challenges and opportunities in light of the coronavirus pandemic. If interested, register here. ING is a peace-building organization providing education and engagement opportunities that foster understanding of Muslims and other misunderstood groups to promote harmony among all people. ING is not affiliated with Indiana University or IU School of Medicine, and content presented does not represent the perspective of the university.

ING (Islamic Networks Group)
USA Today

Special notes for faculty and clinicians regarding learners and trainees observing Ramadan

For Faculty and Instructors in Virtual Classrooms

  • Though we are now utilizing virtual learning, students who are fasting will still experience fatigue. Be aware of the times of day that assessments and exams are administered.
  • Record lectures when possible.
  • Be mindful of your physical actions and statements during virtual class experiences. Try not to eat or drink on camera during virtual sessions.
  • Fasting ends at sunset. Be conscious of the time deadlines given for assignments and assessments/exams.

Supporting Students in Clinical Spaces

  • Seek support from chaplaincy services within your hospital. Chaplains and spiritual healthcare support can be a great resource for trainees and physicians in finding solutions and troubleshooting solutions for engaging trainees and patients.
  • Trainees who are fasting may experience fatigue throughout the day.
  • Be knowledgeable of where wellness and prayer rooms are in your facility.
  • If your facility does not have an official wellness room or prayer room, identify spaces that can be used in the interim.

Recommendations for Everyone

  • While it is important to be conscious of the diverse needs of learners and trainees, it is also important to not “out” students during this time. Be mindful of how you make announcements, so as not to target specific students.
  • Do not assume all Muslim learners and trainees are fasting. There are several reasons as to why a person is not fasting. It is also not appropriate to ask why a person is not fasting.
The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.
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