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Script: A Feminist, Intersectional, Inclusive Introduction to Ramadhan | What the Patriarchy?!

This here is the script for my video on Ramadhan on What the Patriarchy. (Script is below the video.)

Hello, salaam, and Ramadhan Mubarak!

In this video, you’re going to learn about the basics of Ramadhan, what it is, why it matters, how do we celebrate it, how does fasting work, and so on.


So the month of Ramadhan has begun. It’s the 9th month of the Islamic calendar, which is lunar, it is the most sacred of all the months.

Why it matters

So why does this month matter? The Qur’an reads: “The month of Ramadhan is one in which was revealed the Qur’an, a guidance for humanity with clear signs. So whoever sights [the new moon of] the month, let them fast; and whoever is ill or on a journey (if you’re traveling) – then an equal number of other days (outside of Ramadhan). God intends for you ease and does not intend for you hardship ….” This is verse 185 of Chapter 2 of the Qur’an where we get some information on fasting.

So this is the month that the Qur’an, the most sacred text of Islam, was first revealed in to the Prophet Muhammad. This month is so special that Muslims believe that every good deed that you practice or do is multiplied hundred and thousand folds, your blessings and rewards from God for all good intentions and actions, including fulfilling religious and other daily obligations, are multiplied. And for this and other reasons, Muslims are esp more generous in Ramadhan.

THE RAMADHAN GREETING

Before I get into the details of fasting, if you’d like to know how to greet a Muslim at this time, or if you wanna know what the greeting you’ve been seeing all around social media is: Ramadhan Mubarak. It means have a blessed Ramadhan. The English equivalent is Happy Ramadhan. This is probabluy the mos common greeting that you might come aacross, but you have other options too, like “Ramadhan kareem” (which is a greeting that’s welcoming the generosity that comes with Ramadhan – it means something like have a generous Ramadhan? May God be generous to you during Ramadhan? May you be generous during Ramadhan? The word kareem in Arabic means generous). You can say it English too: happy Ramadhan! Or “(have a) blessed Ramadhan.”

And if you’re not Muslim, you should totally feel comfortable saying it to Muslims in your life because it’s wonderful to feel seen as a minority, so if you’ve a Muslim friend, greet them with this, even if they’re not fasting. Speaking of which, I advise against asking about their fasting because some Muslim struggle with it, some aren’t able to fast, some don’t want to fast and feel guilty, some have a complicated relationship with the religion or with God or with their community and therefore may not fast currently and there’s social/religious stigma against not fasting if you’re deemed able by others, and so the question can be triggering for them or they may feel uncomfortable sharing with you that they’re not fasting.

And, btw,  Ramadan = Ramazaan = Ramzaan. You might see Ramadhan spelled with a z, or a d, or a dh. They’re all the equivalents of an Arabic letter called dhaad (ض) and it’s just pronounced differently in different languages. All are correct because languages are a wonderful like that.

Now for some general information about Ramadhan and fasting.

WHEN DO YOU FAST?

It’s not just from sunrise to sunset that we fast – it’s from dawn to sunset. And fun fact? “Sunset” is debatable, and all Muslims don’t agree on what exactly God meant when She said fast from this time till this time cuz She didn’t use the words sunset/sunrise. Qur’anic verse 2:187 tells us that the fast begins when we see “the light of dawn breaking the darkness of night” or “until you can discern the white streak of dawn against the blackness of the night” (literally, in the Arabic, something about being able to distinguish a white thread from a black thread, or the white of dawn from the darkness of night! And that the fast ends when “night” begins. So Shi’a and Sunni Muslims, the dominant branches of Islam, understand these verses differently and don’t break their fast at the same time, and this is why we have to be careful and not say “sunset” as if that’s THE agreement – it’s not.

And by fast, I mean not just from food: yes, water, too, but not JUST food and water. Any sexual activity, any fighting, any speaking badly of others, any other bad habits, hurting people, even anger, etc., all such things invalidate the fast. Which means that eating or drinking anything at all – except by mistake, unintentionally – or fighting with someone, or cheating or lying and so on, while you are fasting, any time throughout the day while you’re fasting, breaks your fast. When a fast is invalidated, that means you have to make it up outside of Ramadhan, and you have the whole year until Ramadhan returns.

HOW?

To begin your fast, you have several options. You may go to sleep as you normally would and wake up at any time before dawn to eat your morning meal. We have timetables that are calculated in advance that tell us when the fast begins and ends. Another option is to eat before you sleep and only wake up at your normal time as you do outside of ramadhan. This will mean, tho, that your fast will be very long and you’ll be hungry much longer. And the idea is to do the best you can to avoid having to break your fast out of necessity, and necessity is defined by you the faster. Another option I’ve seen – and this was in Morocco and Oman – is that you stay up all night until dawn, eating and socialising with family and friends and neighbours & praying occasionally, and then sleep once you’ve done your morning/dawn prayer, and then wake up in the middle of the day…. Yeah, some Muslim-majority countries will adjust their work day during ramadhan so that you can do your fast just fine.

So then you fast all day while the sun is out, doing your best not to break it if you don’t have to, and then you break it. How do you break it? Well, all you have to do is to just eat or drink something real quick at the time designated for fast-breaking. You might then go do your evening/sunset prayer, and then join a whole meal with your family or friends or community, if you’re eating with other people. Or you might break your fast, finish your meal, and then do your evening prayer. Either way, the breaking of the fast is symbolic and needs to be done on time. Oh, speaking of breaking fasts, you might see a lot of dates in grocery stores around the world, and that’s because a lot of Muslims break their fast with dates, the fruit, which is how the Prophet Muhammad broke his fast.

WHAT DO YOU DO WHILE FASTING ALL DAY?

Throughout the day, you want to get as much prayer and closeness with God as possible. You may still go to work and fulfill other obligations (& God rewards you for those), but you want to remember constantly that you’re fasting. You try to worship in whatever ways and to whatever extent you can, so you might recite different names of God all day long (not necessarily out loud), you might send blessings on the prophet Muhammad and Abraham, you might make sure to do all your 3-5 prayers on time throughout the day, you might read the Quran as much as possible and aim to complete one whole juz’ (part) – there are 30 juz’s of the Qur’an total, so you might try to do at least one a day to complete the whole Quran in ramadhan), you might spend time with other people and connect with others, you might visit places where you feel the presence of God and goodness to keep yourself spiritually grounded, you might volunteer in your community, you might give a lot of charity, and so on.

All of this is much easier this month than others becuz fun fact? Muslims believe that Satan/the devil is tied up in Ramadhan so can’t tempt us to do evil! Meaning that your ultimate source of temptation is tied up and has no access to you! For those of us who still do evil, or don’t do good things in Ramadhan, or don’t fulfill our obligations and stuff, that’x cuz we’re such lost causes we don’t even need Satan anymore.

What else does one do throughout the day as they fast? Ahh, but this depend so much on your gender and where you live! If you have a big family and community and you get together with others for a large meal to break your fast with, for example, AND you’re a woman, you’ll have very little time throughout the day to do anything but prepare for this very huge feast. (& we know cooking and house work generally are very gendered tasks.) If you have a smaller group to eat with, though, you’re probably not spending as much time cooking these meals. Bottom line, too many women don’t get as much of an opportunity, or aren’t able to take advantage of Ramadhan, as are many men.

So, WHO FASTS?

The basic answer is, whoever can. There are so many exceptions to fasting. It’s one of the things I love so much about Islam. The flexibility of it and the practicality of it, how incredibly accommodating it is – like all other religions. You fast IF you can. The idea isn’t to kill you or make you suffer. On the contrary, the Qur’anic verses on fasting include a verse that God intends for us ease, not difficulty (Q. 2:185). People on medication for whatever reasons are exempt; anyone to whose health fasting from food and/or water is a danger is exempt; you’re not required to fast during your menstruation (you can if you want to – you just don’t have to if you’re not able to! For more on menstruation and fasting, see my video linked in the description of this video); nursing and pregnant people are exempt; older people/ the elderly are exempt; so are children (anyone who hasn’t attained puberty yet, no specific age), anyone sick for just a few hours or a whole day or of a more complicated illness or chronically ill; anyone traveling long-distance (this is also negotiable – traveling on a camel or a horse in 7th century when the Qur’an was revealed was a tad more difficult than it is today, but you’re still allowed to not fast when you’re traveling even if you can do so. But while anyone in these groups is exempt from fasting, still, whoever can handle it is encouraged to fast. Basically, it’s all negotiable – you decide if you’re not able to manage it. You decide if your body is able to handle a fast, and don’t trust anyone else to tell you whether you can or can’t handle it.

So ultimately, the idea is whoever CAN fast, is able to fast, should fast; it’s considered obligatory on them to fast. The “can” part is imp and Muslims often emphasise the health component, that everyone who fasts must be healthy enough to fast. What we don’t often hear, however, is that our definition of “healthy” over the last few decades has evolved and isn’t the same as what it was in the past; e.g., today, we (collectively, as a humanity) recognize the importance of good mental health more than we have before, and so even if the historical texts don’t explicitly mention something like “people who have depression don’t have to fast if they can’t handle it,” or “people with anorexia are exempt,” we can still extend our definition of “ability” to include all components of health, not physical alone. I also include spiritual, emotional health in this, and again, you do what you’re ABLE to do. (If you’re a Muslim listening to this this and have been told by someone else that you should fast even tho YOU know you can’t handle a fast, trust yourself and don’t fast. Don’t discuss it with people who’ll guilt you into fasting. Ultimately, this isn’t abt anyone else.)

Lets talk about some of THE TECHNICALITIES

Some Muslims take fasting and the details of what breaks and makes it and who can and can’t fast more literally than others. So they might ask questions that other people find silly and “missing the point.” For example, is my fast broken or invalidated if I taste my food as I’m cooking it? Is a fast invalidated by using toothpaste or accidentally swallowing mouthwash while brushing your teeth during a fast? They might ask, I broke my fast a couple mins after sunset; is that ok? I was eating and there was still taste in my mouth from what I was eating and the adhaan (the call to prayer) happened, and the fast had begun; is my fast valid now?

But in such cases, it’s important to remember that religion means different things to different people, and it’s valuable that some people care this deeply about whether they’re doing something very, very right, exactly as intended by God – even if we can never really determine what God’s intentions are. Not so much fun when they pressure or force you to follow their rules, sure, but as long as they’re not doing that, they are allowed to get technical and focus on what someone else might think isn’t the point.

WHY FAST?

Now you might be thinking, this is really cool and I’m learning a lot, but why even fast in the first place? We have to be careful here. I grew up to a very terrible explanation that I’ve seen given on social media over the years, too, which is that “we fast so we can understand how poor people live, what it’s like to go hungry.” Yikes. My loves, poor people also have to fast if they fit the criteria of people able to fast! Hungry people too. You don’t break your fast just because you get hungry – unless the hunger is serious enough where it can damage your health, in which case, some interpretations of Islam would require you to break the fast because preservation of health is one of the objectives of the sharia (loosely translated as Islamic law).

But Muslims give all kinds of reasons for why they fast. The Quran doesn’t explain why, other than that religious communities and people before us had to fast, that it may help us become mindful of God. So we do it because the Quran prescribes it, because it’s a thing that many religions have historically valued and some continue to do it. I am personally not averse to comparisons with lent, although for many Christians with lent, you can decide whatever to fast from, whereas for Islam, generally the idea is that, unless you’re unable to fast the conventional way, you can’t “replace” the rules for no food and water with “I’m gonna fast from Diet Coke for the next 30 days.” You MAY fast your own way if you belong in any of the groups exempt from fasting.

But religions that view fasting as a big deal mostly have treated it as a method to discipline humans. And anyone who has ever fasted knows how much discipline fasting requires – not getting angry / controlling your anger? Not eating just cuz you are hungry or feel like it? Not acting on any sexual desires? Treating people with kindness and respect even if they annoy you or that you don’t like? All of this requires discipline. So that’s my own explanation of it: it teaches me discipline (that’s also why I pray “the Muslim way” at the “Muslim times”.) but also? It makes me feel like I’m a part of something bigger. I esp love the community aspect of ramadhan – like you get to break the fast together with a bunch of other people, or start the fast with a bunch of other people – although with COVID, please be safe.

So I love knowing that most Muslims around the world, in any given city in the world, are fasting and celebrating this month. It’s also the most generous time of the year. I’ve experienced that generosity, and it’s gorgeous.


But bottom line, most Muslims fast because they consider it an obligation, a command from God. But also this same most Muslims have most likely found other reasons, more personal reasons, to look forward to fasting, to encourage others to fast too, to enjoy the fast, to appreciate it, and so on.

FASTING OUTSIDE OF RAMADHAN

Fasting is so meaningful – and so symbolic – that you don’t fast just in Ramadhan. There are many days designated throughout the Islamic calendar that are considered important for fasting, such as days the Prophet Muhammad fasted on and recommended it for others, too. It’s just that the Ramadhan fasts are religiously obligatory, and one’s accountable to God for fulfilling them. Outside of Ramadhan, and outside of the recommended fasts on other days, fasting is a way to expiate for certain sins or indiscretions a person commits. This means if you’ve committed certain acts that you’re not supposed to as a Muslim person, you can seek forgiveness from God by fasting for a certain number of days with the intention that may God forgive you for the thing you did that you weren’t supposed to do.


WHAT’S WITH THE MOON?

The moon is kind of a big deal in lunar calendars, you see. That’s how you know when a new month is here. Many Muslims take this literally and want to see the moon themselves, although it’s a bit more complicated so even if you see it yourself and your community decides that, nope, Ramadhan is not tomorrow, it’ll be too lonely to start the fast alone. Doing it with a community is important, so you go with what the community around you decides. Fun fact: while most (all?) Muslims universally rely on calculations some way in advance to determine the time of their daily 3-5 prayers, somehow when it comes to fasting and the two main celebrations (the two Eids), some of us take moonsighting a bit too seriously and believe that if you don’t see the moon ourselves with the naked eye, then we can’t begin our fast.

And this reminds me. Some Muslims decorate their homes in preparation for the month. These decorations are very moon-focused, and now you understand why! There’s also a whole event for moon-sighting. So moon-sighting is kind of a big deal.


 But CAREFUL, THO.

I don’t want to be romanticising ramadhan and fasting and certainly don’t want to generalise so that it sounds like I’m talking abt all individual Muslims. It should go without saying that Islam is an incredibly diverse religion, and Muslims come in all kinds of beliefs and ways of being Muslim. Ramadhan is generally a very beautiful month, Muslims do generally look forward to it (even if they don’t LOVE fasting in warm or hot weathers in long days), and the rules are generally followed by most fasters – I suspect. However, especially for Muslims living alone, or who don’t have a good community, or who aren’t on good terms with God or Islam or their community, or Muslims who have faced serious challenges recently or during another Ramadhan, or Muslims who have lost a loved one recently and this is their first Ramadhan without that loved one, or Muslims who are new parents (esp mothers), or Muslims with an illness of any kind – these are all groups of Muslims who might struggle a lot during Ramadhan. They may not fast, they may hurt when fasting, they may dread this month. And they exist and they are important and they’re still Muslim. So we don’t want to pretend like Ramadhan is a great time for everyone.

If you, dear listener, are that person, I wish you well, I wish you beauty, I wish you good health, and I wish you peace!  There are Facebook groups dedicated to Muslims who don’t fast – for whatever reasons – to provide a community. Find your community and be well!

WHAT HAPPENS ONCE RAMADHAN ENDS?

Once Ramadhan ends, the first day of the next month is the first day of Eid. There are two major Eids in the Islamic calendar, and the first one comes immediately after the fasting month ends, and it’s called Eid-al-Fitr – literally the Eid of breaking the fast. The second one occurs roughly 2 months and 10 days after the first one and is called Eid-ul-Adha, literally the Eid of Sacrifice (yeah, most Muslims take this literally and sacrifice an animal; some Muslims don’t take it this literally and might interpret sacrifice more metaphorically – it’s a long story for another time). For both Eids, you hang with family and community, there’s a prayer with a sermon that happens that you try to attend if you can, you greet each other with Eid mubaarak!, you wear new clothes if you can afford them, you eat lots and lots of foods with people you love and hang with, and depending on where you live and how many relatives you have around you, you might visit as many of your relatives as you can in a given day. The first day is the most important day of Eid, but it lasts for three days, and Eid is a holiday in Muslim-majority countries. Children get money as gifts on Eid – grown ups might too – and it’s called Eidi in some languages.

In Conclusion

Okay, so I think that’s your what, why, when, who of fasting.

Stay kind and I hope you have a feminist Ramadhan! 

Categories: Death to patriarchy

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