The Muslim Holy Month of Ramadan is now drawing towards its close. The duration of the month depends on the lunar calendar, and therefore varies somewhat each year.
The start and end of Ramadan depends upon the sighting of the moon. However, whereas in ancient times it was really necessary to be able to sight the moon in order to announce the start and end of the month, nowadays there are modern, worldwide methods of such timing, although traditional announcements are still made.
In 2019, the commencement of Ramadan was on 5 May, and will on 4 June, followed by the festival of Eid-ul-Fitr.
Ramadan is the traditional fasting month. From dawn to dusk, strict Muslims consume no food or water and observe the designated times of prayer, five per day, with particular strictness. This is a very arduous experience, especially in tropical countries and even more particularly when Ramadan coincides with the hottest time of year.
Smoking and marital relations are also forbidden from dawn to sunset.
Along with repeating the confession, ritual prayer, almsgiving and making the pilgrimage to Mecca, fasting is one of the five “Pillars” or “acts of worship” which are obligatory for all Muslims.
There are exceptions to the religious requirement for fasting. The first exemption, however, relates to times of warfare, as applied during the early years of expansion of Islam across Arabia, Africa and Asia. Warriors were not constrained to fast, because such a practice would inhibit their conquering ability.
Furthermore, children and the elderly, as well as the sick, are exempted from fasting, and this extends to pregnant women. Beyond these exemptions, privileges can be extended to travellers. This was intended originally to apply to those crossing the desert on camel trains. But modern travellers sometimes indulge despite the comfort of up-to-date travel facilities.
The practice of Ramadan originated with Islam itself, over 1,300 years ago. Life and living conditions differed from today, but the traditions of Ramadan persist largely unmodified. Therefore one has to relate the practices of historic Ramadan to these modern conditions. Strict Muslims are required to be compliant, but not exceed these times, which would be considered indicative of fanaticism.
Some Muslims keep a container of water beside them, so that they can end their fast immediately on the call for ending, originally announced by the imam from the minaret beside the mosque, but nowadays also broadcast on radio, television and even mobile phone.
Despite the hardships of fasting during Ramadan, Muslims are expected to play their full part in the daily life of the communities where they live, including those where they are in the minority. It is, of course, necessary to ensure the safety of those working in the community and those alongside them. Since they may be considered travellers, bus, train drivers and airline pilots could be exempted from strict observance.