A Brief Guide to Ramadan

At [Redacted], we’re pleased to wish all our Muslim colleagues a ‘Ramadan Mubarak’ as, once again, the moon rises on the Islamic calendar’s holiest month.

As most non-Muslims will now know, Ramadan is a time for daylight fasting, prayer and reflection – and celebration – across the faith of Islam.  But those are just the most basic details that don’t even begin to explain its importance.  So why does it exist and what does it mean to observe this solemn ritual every year?

The observance of Ramadan is considered one of the Five Pillars of Islam, together with Profession of Faith, Prayer, charitable donation and making a pilgrimage to Mecca.  The discipline required to complete a whole month of its obligations is not only necessary to bring each Muslim closer to God but also to remind them of those who are not fortunate enough to be able to eat regularly.  

As a consequence, the morning meal, suhoor, and the evening meal, Iftar, assume greater importance throughout Ramadan.  At the end of the festival, the breaking of the fast – Eid al-Fitr – is a celebration of the end of the task and the successful completion of the spiritual and mental challenge it represents.  

The level of strictness that each person brings to Ramadan can vary.  Even showering in the daytime can be seen as problematical, as swallowing small quantities of water may be viewed as a breach of one’s commitment.  Others may view music as a similar distraction from their focus on faith and self-improvement, and will scale back or even suspend listening to music.

Non-devotees can help Muslim friends throughout the month by being aware of the demands of their fasting, and appreciating the changes it may impose on their daily schedule.  An understanding that even smoking and chewing gum are regarded as breaking one’s fast can also help others better negotiate the sensitivities of the month.  

Perhaps it’s also helpful for others to appreciate that what they may consider “just a little rule-break” in fact requires Muslims to undergo Kaffarah, the process of atonement which involves another 60 days’ fasting or giving the cost of feeding 60 needy people.   

The 2011 census reported that 4.4% of the UK population identified themselves as followers of Islam, which suggests that today, almost 3 million of us are Muslims.  With such a number, it should come as no surprise that it’s a large, influential section of the community.

What is perhaps surprising is that 2022 is the first year that Tesco will run an advertising campaign, specifically designed for the whole of the month-long festival.  What’s more, they’ve taken great care not to be accused of simply attaching their brand to the words and imagery of Ramadan.  Their campaign involves eastward-facing digital billboards that add images of food to plates only as the sun sets – and which do not share spaces with other, inappropriate, messages such as ads for alcohol.

This is significant because other advertisers are likely to follow this approach, which, in turn, will begin to shape the way that whole community consumes and understands the principles and importance of Ramadan.  

By the time of Ramadan next year (on or around 22nd March 2023, depending upon observance), perhaps the UK’s mainstream understanding of its significance will continue to be greater than ever before.