What are the Ramadan fasting rules?
The most basic tenant of the Ramadan fast is not eating or drinking (even water) between dawn and evening, according to local sunrise and sunset times. Ramadan 2015 will be 14 hours here in Nigeria and it will involve long fasts for American and other Muslims in the Northern Hemisphere. Near the Arctic Circle, for example, the fast will last around 22 hours. In Australia, in the Southern Hemisphere, the fast will last around 12 hours.
However, Some Muslim-majority countries ban eating and drinking in public for all residents, even non-muslims and most restaurants are closed during daylight hours.
Daytime fasting during Ramadan has an ascetic quality. Muslims basically go about their normal routine, including work school and social functions. However, observers of Ramadan are expected to “abstain from food, drink and other sensual pleasures,” according to the Council on Islamic American Relations (CAIR). Sensual pleasures include sexual intercourse.
While already banned or discouraged in Islam, extramarital sex, smoking and drinking are even more discouraged during Ramadan. Minor indulgences such as lying require a small penance. Major offenses — day sex, eating, drinking — require a major penance such as additional fasting or feeding poor people.
Fasting is only required for people who are physically able to do so. The elderly, sick and mentally ill are all exempt. Pregnant, nursing and menstruating women are also exempt from fasting rules.
How can non-muslims participate?
Some non-muslims participate in fasting, especially if they live in a muslim country or have lots of Muslim friends. In Nigeria where food and drink are flowing through the day during Ramadan throughout the day right under their hungry and thirsty mouths, non-muslims can support their muslim friends by not eating or drinking in front of them. Non-muslims are also often invited to Ramadan feasts. Ramadan isn’t all about abstinence. Post-sunset dinners during Ramadan can be decadent feasts. Called “iftar,” the fast-breaking meal is open to non-muslims.
CAIR has urges local Muslim leaders to hold interfaith iftars and have put out a guide on how to do so.