A Charles Sturt University (CSU) academic says that fasting by Muslims during Ramadan creates a time of great solidarity and spiritual renewal throughout the Islamic world.
Lecturer at the CSU Centre for Islamic Studies and Civilisation, Associate Professor Salih Yucel (pictured) said, "When hundreds of millions of Muslims around the world begin fasting during daylight hours with the start of Ramadan on Tuesday 7 June, what they experience together creates a social space and a unique sense of solidarity.
"Fasting has been an integral part of all major religions, and fasting during the month of Ramadan is one of the pillars of Islam practiced by the majority of Muslims," Professor Yucel said.
He noted that every year the month of Ramadan rotates ten days back because it is based on the lunar calendar.
"During Ramadan all physically mature and healthy Muslims are required to abstain from all food, drink, gum chewing, tobacco use, and any kind of sexual contact between dawn and sunset for 29 or 30 days, depending on the lunar calendar," Professor Yucel said.
"Those who fast have a light meal before the break of the dawn, known as suhoor, and at sunset they have iftar, the fast-breaking meal. Certain categories of people are legitimately excused from the fast, such as young children, pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers, those whose health would be harmed by not eating, and travellers.
"By sharing the meals with friends, relatives and neighbours, and by giving fitra (charity) and zakat (alms) to the poor and needy during Ramadan, Muslims take part in healing social wounds, knitting closer ties with others, redistributing wealth, and connecting with those who are in need."
Professor Yucel said this aspect of Ramadan contributes to creating a just and compassionate society based on sharing and giving, rather than focusing on consumerism.
"Therefore, Ramadan is a month of generosity, sharing and forgiving," he said. "For this reason, free dinners are provided, sometimes on a daily basis, to the local community by Muslim congregations throughout the world. Just as many Christian organisations help those in need, particularly during Christmas, Muslims also increase their charity, alongside their worship."
Fasting also includes refraining from gossiping, lying, slandering and all traits of bad character. It calls for doing good deeds, generosity and kindness, self-reflection, praying and God-consciousness.
"Fasting calls humankind to realise the blessings and bounties given by God, show gratitude, and live in appreciation of these gifts," Professor Yucel said. "These can lead people to live with a greater spiritual intensity and develop a stronger inner life.
"Besides being a major practice in Islam to fast during Ramadan, this month is significant for Muslims because it was during this month that God revealed the first verses of the Qur'an to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)."
Professor Yucel said, "In addition to fasting, Muslims are encouraged to read the entire Qur'an, which is around 600 pages divided to 30 equal parts, with one part read each day. Muslims also go to the mosque to observe the supererogatory prayer known as tarawih, and special Ramadan prayers after the breaking of the fast."
Around the world, more than 1.4 billion Muslims will celebrate the end of Ramadan, known as Eid al-Fitr, which is the first major holy day of the Islamic calendar year.
"This annual expression of joy and thanksgiving is an occasion of hope for a new life and abundant blessings," Professor Yucel said. "Customs vary from city to city and country to country, but the day universally begins with Eid prayers, which start before sunrise in mosques. Eid al-Fitr is a communal expression and affirmation of shared values and commitment. During Eid, families and relatives visit each other, exchange gifts, buy gifts for the children especially, and prepare special foods and desserts.
"Through fasting during Ramadan, Muslims develop a balance in both the physical and spiritual dimensions of their existence. However, all these benefits, whether physical, psychological, social or spiritual, come as a blessing from God, and are not the aim of hundreds of millions of Muslims. In the theory, Muslims observe Ramadan only to please God."
Media contact: Bruce Andrews, (02) 6338 6084
Contact CSU Media to arrange interviews with Associate Professor Salih Yucel.