The annual Muslim holy month of Ramadan of this year has begun, from 5 May to 4 June. All people in the world who worship Islam will not eat or drink after sunrise and before sunset. But what is Ramadan? What are the spreading misconceptions?
With a population of 250 million and nearly 90% of them is Muslim, Indonesia probably is the country with the largest Muslim population in the world. It also has the largest mosque in Southeast Asia. In Islamic culture, the most important is the annual Muslim holy month of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. During this month, Muslims are required to fast from Fajr before the sun rises and until Maghrib after sunset. Through self-disciplined and introspective fasting, Muslims can learn patience and self-control, experience the pain of hunger, feel the importance of food and thank Allah. Fasting includes forgoing food and drink, sexual intercourse, smoking, speaking foul languages and avoiding being distracted. The aim of this month is to cultivate one’s virtue, improve one’s self-control and move closer to Allah through extra Quran reading and praying. At the end of Ramadan, Muslims will celebrate Eid al-Fitr, thanking Allah for strengthening their faith.
Shabbir Hassan, who can recite the whole Quran, is an advanced student of Islamic Sciences and Sharia. Regarding some frequent misconceptions and misunderstandings towards Ramadan, Hassan has listed out and analyzed six common items.
1. No brushing of teeth?
Although some scholars indicate that brushing your teeth is not breaking the fast, Hassan would like to give some suggestions to those who are particularly careful. You can choose to use a toothpaste which tastes less strong and has less mint, or apply miswak, a tooth-cleaning twig with a natural smell. The twig from a mustard tree is recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) and can be employed as a teeth-cleaning tool.
2. No swallowing of saliva?
Hassan highlights that swallowing your own saliva is natural and is wholly acceptable, which would not break the fast. However, he further explains that swallowing other’s saliva is breaking the fast as this is an exchange of body fluids. Kissing or intimate relationships are not allowed during the fast as it aims to control your desire of food, drink and intimate relationships.
3. Only forgoing food and drink during fasting?
Fasting is not only about food and drink. Hassan states that you will break the fast if you have committed other tongue-related sin, like gossiping, slandering or cursing others, and the effect of fasting will be affected.
4. Eat or drink accidentally is breaking the fast?
If you really forget for a moment that you are fasting, and you stop immediately at that moment you realize it, your fasting is still counted as valid. However, if you consume food under avoidable circumstances, for example, consume food while performing ablution before prayers, then you are considered breaking the fast. Mouth-washing should be avoided while performing ablution during fasting. You should only rinse your mouth quickly and spit it out. The ablution before fasting has 8 steps, one of those is mouth-washing. If you accidentally swallow water, this is viewed as breaking the fast.
5. No medications?
The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) and the International Glaucoma Association issued a joint statement, urging people to continue using some medications while fasting, for example, eye drops. It is stated clearly in the Quran that you have to follow your doctor’s instructions. MCB has published a Ramadan fact sheet as reference for hospitals. It lists out medications such as eye drops, ear drops, injections and urethral infusions are not breaking the fast. On the other hand, swallowing pills or tablets will break the fast. Therefore, you should start these medications after the fasting month or end before it.
6. Fasting is mandatory?
In Shariah, only those with good health conditions and at a certain age are required to fast. Therefore, young children, patients with mental or physical illnesses, people with poor conditions, pregnant or women who are nursing are excluded from fasting. Hassan indicates that people who are going to recover very soon from a short-term illness can find some time to compensate. For those who are suffering from long-term illnesses, they can make fidyah and donate some money to support poor families.
In most cases, however, the way of implementation depends on the school they support. The concepts mentioned above can accept different interpretations. People can choose their own pious way of fasting so as to achieve self-discipline and introspection, and learn patience and self-control, strengthening its faith.