Ramadan is the holiest month in the Islamic calendar. Each year, you’ll see Muslims fasting from sunrise to sunset for an entire month. So, why is Ramadan such an important month for Muslims and why do they fast? Ramadan is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar, which is based on the lunar cycle or phases of the moon. Healthy adult Muslims are required to fast in the daylight hours of Ramadan, which involves abstaining from eating, drinking, immoral acts and getting angry. Fasting (‘sawm’) is one of five pillars in Islam, the other four being faith in Allah (‘shahada’), prayer (‘salat’ or ‘namaz’), charity (‘zakat’) and pilgrimage (‘hajj’). For Muslims, it is a time for piety and spirituality and an opportunity to get closer to Allah. All Muslims who meet the necessary criteria in terms of wealth must do zakat (charity) in this month and donate the equivalent of 2.5% of their total savings and investments to support the needy.

Why is Ramadan so special?

Ramadan is the month in which the Qur’an, the holy book of Islam, was revealed to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) through the angel Jibreel (Gabriel) in AD 610. The timing of revelation is given special significance, and is known as Laylatul Qadr or the Night of Power.

In the Qur’an, Laylatul Qadr is described as:

We have revealed it (Qur’an) in the night of power. And what will explain to you what the night of power is? The night of power is better than a thousand months.

Qur’an 97:1–4

To commemorate the revelation of the Qur’an, Muslims fast during the month of Ramadan – aiming to grow in spirituality by building a stronger relationship with Allah. We do this through fasting, praying, reciting the Qur’an, making their actions purposeful and selfless, and refraining from lying, gossiping and fighting.

What do Muslims do in Ramadan?

We wake up early (around 3.30am to 4am) for Suhur, a meal before fasting begins, followed by morning prayer, Fajr. Like me, my fellow Muslims will probably have some fruit, dates, maybe some slow energy releasing foods, like porridge oats or high-fibre cereal, alongside a cup of coffee/tea, and plenty of water to keep hydrated throughout the day. Some will practise special diets or different nutritional meals, but in general this is normally what we will eat at this time of the morning.

Fast forward to 7pm, and we’ll sit down for Iftar, a meal after sunset to break our fast, followed by sunset prayers, Maghrib. A couple of hours later, we’ll have nightly prayers, Ishaa, which are accompanied by additional Ramadan prayers called Taraweeh.

Now you’re probably guessing after reading this that surely it must be past Midnight by now… and you’re not wrong. We now have just a few hours to get some rest, before we must wake up and the whole cycle starts again.

My experience this Ramadan

I started fasting when I only 10 years old – too young. I’ve been fortunate to have had a very different experience this Ramadan. I work at BNY Mellon, in Pune, India where the weather touches 40 degrees Celsius. Like most companies these days, we have been working from home. This means I am in control of where and how I work.

Don’t get me wrong, fasting still takes it out of me – and before you ask, “You can at least have water, right?” the answer is “No”. We abstain from all food and drink from sunrise to sunset, including water and all caffeinated drinks (ha-ha, can you tell I’m a coffee junkie). It’s sabr (patience) that we must exercise in this month. This experience shows me the pain and hunger a needy person goes through every day.

I am currently waking up at 4am, and having some fruits, dates, bread and plenty of water. Fortunately, I get some sleep after Fajr prayer as I work from 1pm to 9.30pm. As I am at home, I pray five times a day, which I was unable to do when we were working in the office. Due to immense heat this summer, the only thing which concerns me the most is thirst. Once it’s 7pm, I break my fast with ‘iftar’ (an evening meal) with my family, which is a great blessing for me as my wife cooks very delicious and different kinds of cuisines during Ramadan.

After we have our meal, we pray ‘Magrib’ and then ‘Isha’ Prayers, which completes our day. On the 29th/30th day, we celebrate the last day of Ramadan and next day we celebrate Eid-Ul-Fitr, at which it is ‘Sunnah’ (habitual practice) to wear new clothes, apply ‘attar’ (perfume), and eat dates before Eid Prayers.

Every Muslim eagerly awaits his/her next Ramadan so that they can worship and be closer to Allah.

Holi is a festival of colours which falls in early summer. People gather and perform religious rituals in front of the bonfire and pray that their internal evil be destroyed.

The next morning is celebrated as Rangwali Holi (Dhuleti) – a free-for-all festival of colours, where people come together, splash colours with water on each other and have fun with water guns and water-filled balloons. Hindus prepare a special Maharashtrian dish known as puran poli (sweet chapati), which is a sweet dish to be eaten with either ghee or kheer (a mixture of sweet rice and milk or vermicelli).

The festival of Holi is no longer restricted to a particular religion but is celebrated across India by people from all walks of life. It brings friends and families together and for a short time all the worries and stress from our everyday lives take a back seat.

Holi for me has always been a symbol of togetherness, happiness and fun. I wish each and every one of you a very ‘Happy Holi’, and may this festival make your lives always happy and colorful.

The past two years have afforded us the luxury of a lot of family time. In my family, a lot of this time has been spent in freewheeling discussions on topics all and sundry, sometimes starting with whether unicorns are real and ending with how the stock markets work. One such conversation had my nine-year-old daughter ask what being a feminist really meant. My husband had an audience-appropriate reply: it means believing in girl power.

This #International Women’s Day, I’ve given some thought to what ‘“girl power”’ means to me, and I believe it signifies grit, determination, spirit, and a sense of purpose and adventure. And who do I think embodies girl power?

  • Marge, the crossing guard near my daughter’s school — the kids at school are convinced that she saw the pilgrims when they first arrived on these shores on the Mayflower (I’ve also heard rumors that she was around when dinosaurs prowled the Earth); it’s debatable whether she saw the pilgrims and the dinosaurs, but what’s certain is that it takes mettle to be outdoors, on your feet, day after day, come rain, snow or sun (and in New Jersey, we get a LOT of each) to help school kids cross the street, and to greet every child with a smile and every parent with a joke.
  • Julia Albu, who is sadly no more, but who became famous for being the plucky 80-year-old South African who decided that life was too short to not have an adventure. She embarked on a road trip across Africa in her trusty 1997 Toyota Conquest (‘Tracy’) all by herself after her husband’s death. She breezed through border checkpoints announcing that she was on her way to “have tea with the Queen of England”, and she and Tracy encountered everything from elephants and tourists to dirt tracks and pothole-ridden roads in their bid to get to Cairo. She flew back home from there to rest briefly, before taking off again, driving through Europe this time to get to London (no, she didn’t meet the Queen), and then driving across Africa a second time because the alternative of just sitting on the sofa wasn’t appealing.
  • My female co-workers who are trailblazers in a historically male-dominated industry. 
  • My mum, who happily moved and set up home in a new place every couple of years (my dad’s work took him — and us — all over India). She made it look effortless, but it must have taken a lot of energy, ingenuity, planning and organization to be able to pull it off every time. 
  • Working mothers, who spend all waking hours multi-tasking, wearing different hats and being productive — and never was this ability to multi-task tested more vigorously than during the pandemic. 
  • Women who are dreamers, thinkers and doers.
  • All those amazing role models at school, at home and in the news who inspire little girls to broaden their horizons. 

Finally, I asked my kids what ‘girl power’ meant to them and who they think of when they hear this phrase.

My fourth grader said Malala Yousafzai, the now 24-year-old Pakistani activist for female education and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, and she added that girl power meant being unstoppable. 

My four-year-old said she thinks of herself when she hears the phrase, and to her it meant that “all girls are Supergirls”. Touché!