By Hannah Griffiths (intern from Tanglin Trust School)
Each year, on the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, you’ll see mosques packed full of people every evening, then, once the sun has set, these same people filling up restaurants and food bazaars (though sadly not this year on account of COVID-19). If you haven’t been living in Singapore long, you might have been wondering: what is going on? The answer is simple. Muslims all over the world, including Singapore, are observing Ramadan! If you’re not sure exactly what it entails, don’t worry – by the end of this article, you’ll certainly know your iftar from your suhur.
What is Ramadan?
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Muslim calendar. However, if you’ve heard the term before, you probably know it as the holy month of fasting in Islam. You may also have heard it called Eid, but that’s not actually correct – Eid (or to be precise, Eid al-Fitr) is the day that Ramadan ends.
When is it?
As mentioned, it takes place during the ninth month of the Muslim calendar. However, the dates of this aren’t set in stone. They go by the lunar calendar, which changes each year and relates to the monthly cycles of the moon. The Judicial High Court in Saudi Arabia declares when Ramadan starts, but some prefer to go by their own sighting of the new moon at the start of the ninth month. Different countries tend to start on different days, depending on visibility and weather conditions. This year, Ramadan in Singapore starts on 24 April, and will end on 23 May.
Why does it happen?
Of course, all of this doesn’t happen for no reason – Ramadan is a period of self-restraint, in line with sawm (which means ‘to restrain’ in Arabic), one of the pillars of Islam. As well as this, Muslims believe that Allah forgives the past sins of those who observe the holy month faithfully.
How does it work?
You would be forgiven for thinking that Ramadan involves just refraining from eating and drinking, but that’s not actually the whole of it. It also involves the obligation to refrain from sexual activity and immoral behaviour, including unkind thoughts and deeds, between dawn and dusk. Breaking these commitments would have the same implications as eating or drinking during daylight.
What happens daily during Ramadan?
- As soon as the sun sets, Muslims break their fast with a meal called iftar. Shortly after the regular sunset prayers, this meal is shared with friends and extended family, usually at the mosque or at home, and it begins with the traditional dates or apricots and water or sweetened milk.
- Extra prayers happen at night, called tarawih prayers. These are performed in addition to the five prayers performed daily throughout the year. Ideally, they should be done at the mosque in a congregation, but they can happen at home too. Over the course of the month, the entire Quran may be recited during these prayers.
- Finally, just before the sun rises, the pre-dawn meal is eaten, called suhur. It has to be a big meal, and as nutritious as possible – you can’t do much about it if you get peckish during the day!
- In order to cope with the extra prayers and meals, some Muslim-majority countries change or reduce their working hours. In Singapore, flexi-time or reduced time is available, but unfortunately isn’t implemented nation-wide.
What happens at the end?
At the end of such a tough month, you might expect an extravagant celebration – and you would be completely right. Eid al-Fitr (known better in Singapore as Hari Raya Puasa) is celebrated at the end of Ramadan. Muslims wake up early in the morning and visit the mosque, to thank God for all that He has given them. People then go home and gather as family groups, exchanging gifts, visiting the graves of ancestors and eating delicious meals. Children dress in new clothes and women dress in white. It’s a joyous celebration for all!
For more helpful tips, head to our Living in Singapore section.