What happens in Ramadan besides ‘Iftar’? An inside look for those who don’t practice Islam
I’m writing this with all my non-muslim friends, clients and business partners in mind.
This year has been an extremely challenging Ramadan for me and my team. In between the increased number of enquiries for marketing services and the many iftar invitations that we couldn’t attend, I do feel guilty for the missed opportunities to connect and meet new people.
One more additional thing to feel guilty for, are the delayed email responses and follow ups with present people that we are working with. I hope that this article, might shed more light on “Why are Muslims are so busy during Ramadan and why it’s so hard to contact us during this period.”
Before I begin, I want to introduce Islam as a religion whose followers do their best to follow everything that has been prescribed by God, as written in the Qur’an. The Qur’an prescribes many things for our lives, from what we eat (hence the concern for food that has to be halal for consumption) to what we wear, to our code of conduct, to how we pray, and how often we should do it.
There are a good many Muslims around (myself included) that are struggling to meet what the religion asks of us. The visible struggles that you see are the ones that occasionally compel you to ask me the tough questions when you do get a chance at a conversation with me in private.
“If alcohol is not halal, then why does my Muslim friends drink?”
“Why my friend never wear tudung?”
and the funniest one:
“I think my muslim friends are very naughty muslims.”
“They pretend to be Thai and pretend cannot speak English in order to order food and eat at the restaurant during fasting month.”
There’s a beautiful phrase in the Qur’an that states that there can be no compulsion in our religion:-
“Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error: whoever rejects evil and believes in Allah hath grasped the most trustworthy hand-hold, that never breaks. And Allah heareth and knoweth all things.” (Quran, Al-Baqarah: 256), Yusuf Ali translation, from: https://quran.com/2/256-265
The willingness to follow religion must come from one’s own choice.
Since obedience and submission to a prescribed way of life cannot be forced, it then boils down to each individual to do their best to practise. So, in actuality, what we don’t see is the struggle of the heart. Sometimes the heart wants to follow, but the self feels like s/he is not ready to do so – each person faces their own unique set of challenges to overcome when it comes to the matters of the heart.
That then brings me to this question: Why do Muslims fast during Ramadan?
Why do Muslims fast during Ramadan?
“O you who have believed, decreed upon you is fasting as it was decreed upon those before you that you may become righteous.” Source: (Quran: Al-Baqarah, 183) from https://quran.com/2/183
Just like how consuming or eating only halal food is a prescription for Muslims, fasting is also a prescription for us. This is to be done throughout the month of Ramadan for us to practise self-discipline and self-restraint. Naturally, this brings about a heightened consciousness of our beliefs, and along with that, a heightened remembrance of God and the afterlife (our eternal home).
This is the month where ‘rewards’ to be gained for our afterlife for every good deed is increased multi-folds. So we focus this month largely on prayers, family and charity. Just for this month, suddenly your naughty Muslim friends become slightly less naughty – myself included – haha!
What goes on in our day during Ramadan, how is it different from other months?
Our fast begins early in the wee hours of the morning.
In preparation for a day without food and drink, it is recommended that we wake up before dawn to eat, and hydrate ourselves. You might have seen an increase in the number of dates in circulation during this month for us to eat before we begin our fast and after we break our fast. Dates are like little powerful packets of energy released slowly throughout our body, helping us last the day. It is also the best food to introduce to our body after one day of not eating so as not to shock the body with food.
4.30am- 6am: The Pre-dawn Meal- Sahur
As Singapore has a pretty standard sunrise and sunset time, our schedule in Singapore is as follows:-
4.30am: Wake up to prepare food.
5.00am: Sahur- Eat & drink
~5.45am: Start of fasting and perform pre-dawn prayers (Subuh)
Check out how Singapore’s favourite footballer, Fandi Ahmad, and his family does their sahur (although we eat much more than just Milo I can tell you! haha), but that struggle to wake up is so real.
6am – 8 am: Getting to work
Some of us sleep after our pre-dawn prayers (because we are just so sleepy and tired), but we try not to sleep from 5.45am to the break of dawn (around 7am) and instead use those hours to read the Qur’an and pray to God for everything that we want in life.
After 7 am the day is pretty much normal, except for the part that we’re sleepy when we get to work because our day started at 4.30am. *yawns* If we happen to accidentally fall asleep at 6am, we may face the existential crisis of coming late for work. God forgive me.
Sometimes, Muslim organisations allow their staff to report early to work (at like 7am) so that they are also able to leave earlier in the evening.
Since we don’t eat lunch, usually we will be able to go off one hour earlier. Or we can choose to take a nap for our lunch break instead, because this one-month routine gets pretty tiring on us!
6pm- 8pm: Iftar – breaking fast, where everyone is accounted for at home
Heavily talked about in the community – is the break fast timing, even Bus Uncle, the chatbot which helps you find out what time the bus is coming (in Singlish mind you) is reminding us about this!
This is probably the only month where my family will text and call each other to inform that “it is already time to eat”! LOL. While yes, it is nice to break fast with the most delicious food around, the focus of this time is almost always – Family.
It is pretty sad to see someone to break fast alone, and so, we will check on everyone in our family to ask if they have iftar plans. The natural progression here would then be to have a default family iftar every night. This is why we are always rushing home in the evening.
Our schedule in the evening is as follows:
6pm Die die must reach home at 6pm.
6pm -7pm Cook / Set up dinner table / Make sure everyone has food / check attendance
7pm Eat with all heads accounted for.
8pm Once we’re done eating, we wash up, and we have to do our Maghrib prayers
(obligatory prayer after sunset)
If we’re fortunate enough to be working for a predominantly Muslim organisation, they will allow their Muslim staff to leave early from work during Ramadhan to make this 7pm currfew.
8.30- 9.30PM: Terawih – The Ramadan-only Prayer Intensive Session
Less talked about but equally important, are the Terawih Prayers at night done after concluding Isyak prayers (our obligatory regular night time prayer) around 8.30pm.
When my non-muslim friends ask me to describe Terawih, and how challenging it can be, I would often describe the movements in our prayers in terms of cycles (raka’at).
I.e: 1 cycle consists of: Stand – Bow – Stand – Prostrate (head to touch the floor) – Sit – Prostrate
Terawih Prayers, which can be done at home or at the mosques, can last up to 20 raka’ats (prayer cycles). But, minimum requirement is 8 raka’at – so I do 8. LOL! Our Schedule for this: 8.30pm – 9.30pm daily (weekends and weekdays)
3am- 5am on the last ten days of Ramadan
As I am writing this, we are in the last 10 nights of Ramadan. This is the time where Muslims will increase their frequency and intensity of prayers for the search of that 1 blessed night – Laylatul Qadr (Night of Power). The promise of Laylatul Qadr is that if you pray on this night, the blessings are far better than even a thousand months of prayers.
So what happens? We do additional prayers on the last third of the night (wee hours of the morning). Some mosques will open their doors to worshippers who want to do these prayers in the mosques around 4am.
Although there’s a heightened level of worship during Ramadan, that’s not all that we do. Since what immediately follows Ramadan is Hari Raya, we make preparations for it during this time too. This is also the time when many of us are engaged in business, (like Bazaar Ramadan all over Singapore) or selling home made kueh for Hari Raya through Instagram or other ways online (like our The Kueh Auditions!)
Sometimes, while it may not be us that is engaged in these extracurricular activities during Ramadan, we may be under direct pressure to help our loving parents to fulfil their extracurricular activities. This special mention goes to all the sons who never fail to help their mums deliver kueh to our house during Hari Raya all over Singapore.
So if you’ve been trying to reach us for work matters, but find that our responses are a bit delayed, at least you now know what we’re up to. We’ll be back to the self (or a better version of ourselves) that you are accustomed to soon enough after Hari Raya!