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What is Ramadan? Medical Intern, Dr Hamza Ashraf explains

13 April 2021

This year, Ramadan started on Monday 12 April, and will last 29-30 days, depending on the moon cycle.

Ramadan is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar and is one of the most holy months for Muslims around the world.

During Ramadan, Muslims abstain from eating and drinking (yes, even water) until sunset each day.

They also increase acts of worship, including extra prayers and charity, as well as increasing acts of kindness and compassion.

Medical Intern Dr Hamza Ashraf explains some important Ramadan traditions, how he manages shift work and fasting, as well as what Ramadan means to him. 

Breaking fast Iftar                                 

“Iftar is the sunset meal which marks the conclusion of fasting each day. Traditionally, Muslims break their fast with water or dates, followed by a meal,” says Dr Ashraf.

“This is usually done together with families or friends at home, or in a large community gathering in a mosque or community centre.”

End of Ramadan Eid-ul-Fitr

“Eid-ul-Fitr is the festival which marks the end of Ramadan. It involves lots of food and celebration with family and friends," says Dr Ashraf.

Shiftwork while observing Ramadan

“As medical interns, we will continue work as usual during Ramadan, whether it be day or night shifts, which means we will often need to break our fast while at work," says Dr Ashraf.

“While we try to plan our iftar with a dinner break, interns usually need to be adaptable at hospital, so our iftar may just have to be a muesli bar in between seeing patients or managing the ward, with dinner waiting until we get home!”  

Is it ok to eat in front of someone who is fasting?

“Most Muslims would be more than happy for you to eat and drink in front of them while we are fasting," says Dr Ashraf.

“Most of us also encourage questions about Ramadan, fasting and anything else you might want to know about Islam, as it’s a great opportunity for us to learn more about each other’s cultures and traditions.”

What Ramadan means to Dr Hamza Ashraf

“Ramadan is an opportunity to step back from the commitments of a busy life and focus on what is important to me as a Muslim and a doctor," says Dr Ashraf.

“Fasting is not only a way to strengthen our faith, but also to be grateful for the blessings we have, to remind us of the suffering of those around the world, and to enable us to do our part in helping those less fortunate than us, whether it be through giving to charity or volunteering our time.

“Ramadan is an opportunity to reflect on what is important in life and develop our relationship not only with God but also with those around us. It isn’t just a month of being hungry, but an opportunity to become a better version of ourselves – personally, spiritually and socially.”

Common festive greetings you might see on social media

"Ramadan Mubarak" means "Have a blessed Ramadan."

"Ramadan Kareem" means "Have a generous Ramadan."

You don't have to be participating in Ramadan to say "Ramadan Mubarak" or "Ramadan Kareem."