5 Things You Don't Know About Ramadan




There’s a small shop where my best girl and I go every week after her gymnastics class. It’s part of our weekly routine. When we leave the gymnastics studio, we eagerly drive up the road to pick up a lamb shawarma plate and seasoned fries. Occasionally, if I am particularly hungry, I’ll ask for a kibbeh, an amazing teardrop-shaped patty made from spiced ground beef and bulgar wheat.


While we are there, as my girl tries to eat as much as she can of the free candies that the owner sets out in dishes - without me “noticing” - I peruse the shelves of the store. This shop is where I buy the ingredients I use for my classes such as tahini, red lentils, chaat masala spice and more.


I also get a package of dried figs, a small container of homemade baklava and a container of plump dates just for me. Just because.




I chat with the owner every week and we usually talk about recipes, traditional Arabic foods and ingredients. Sometimes I show him pictures of the kids making the recipes with the ingredients I’ve purchased. I credit this man with the life-changing knowledge that falafel cannot be made with canned chickpeas!! They must be made with soaked dried chickpeas or else they will fall apart.


During the last couple of weeks, we have been chatting about Ramadan and how he is preparing for the holiday in the shop. Ramadan is the ninth month of the Muslim calendar, and it’s the holiest month of the year. Muslims observe the month of Ramadan, to mark that Allah, or God, gave the first chapters of the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad in the year 610.




1) When is Ramadan?


The Islamic calendar is based upon a lunar cycle and contains 354 days in a year. The days are divided into months, and there are 12 months. Since the Islamic year is shorter than the solar year that we follow, Ramadan occurs 10 or 11 days earlier than it did the previous year. This year, in 2018, Ramadan begins on May 16th.


Tradition states that when one can see the new moon, the next month begins, so sometimes there are variances in the day that Ramadan begins.




2) Why Do We Fast During Ramadan?

Have you had the experience of fasting? I’ve had very little experience fasting in my life, and in Judaism we are asked to fast just 1 day, which is quite challenging. The fasting during Ramadan is meant to be a time in which we value the food and water that we have. Also, that we think of others who do not have food and water and who have to fast involuntarily on many days of the year.


Muslims are required to fast from sunrise to sunset. In short, we don’t eat, drink, smoke, take medicine or engage in pleasurable activities. The month is a solemn time to focus on prayer, introspection and self-discipline. It must be said, however, that the fast is meant for healthy adults, and children, those who are ill, pregnant, elderly or nursing are not required to fast.






So back to the shop-owner...there are foods that he is stocking on his shelves so that Muslim neighbors will be able to prepare for Ramadan. There are certain foods that are traditionally eaten during the Suhoor, or the meal one eats before the fast. And there are foods that one eats during the Iftar, or the meal one eats to break the fast. Let’s start with the the Suhoor.




3) What Foods Do We Eat Before Fasting?


During the Suhoor, the idea is to eat foods that will keep the body feeling satisfied and hydrated. Dried fruits like dates, figs and apricots have fiber and are healthy for preparing for a fast. Watermelon is an especially good fruit because of the high water content.


You’ll want to have proteins and complex carbohydrates and also avoid salty foods such as pickles, olives, salted nuts and canned food because those will make you thirsty. Fatty and fried foods will not sit well in your stomach during the fast. Having meats, bean dishes and breads are all good ideas. One of the traditional bean dishes is called Ful Medames, which is made with fava beans and keeps the belly full longer.


Do eat: dried fruits, fresh fruits, beans, meats, breads, yogurt and drink lots of water


Don’t eat: fried foods, heavy desserts, pickles, olives, smoked foods




4) What Foods Do We Eat to Break the Fast?


After the fast is over, it is tempting to want to eat a lot all at once. But, if you can pace yourself, you'll feel better as the night goes on. Traditionally, one breaks the fast with a glass of water, juice or milk and with a few dried dates. Soup is also a good way to ease your way back into eating digestion.


My shop owner friend says that it’s a good idea to have something small to open up your stomach, and then go pray, and then have your dinner later. Iftar dinners are usually really elaborate with lots of meats, soups, breads, rice dishes and a spread of special desserts like sherbets, pastries, cakes and puddings.






5) Where is Ramadan celebrated?


Would you be surprised to learn that Islam is the world's second largest religion? (Christianity has the largest following). There are more than 1 billion followers of Islam in many countries in the world.


Islam originated in Arabia, and the Middle East and North Africa have large Muslim populations. However, countries with the largest Muslim populations include Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Egypt, Turkey and Iran.


There are an estimated 7 million Muslims in America, and many of our neighbors will be observing this holy month.





While Islam is an ancient religion (as are most religions in the world), we often think of Islam as being followed in remote locations in the desert. However, Islam is celebrated by millions and millions of people living in the modern world. 


How does one balance a religious lifestyle and a full-time job? Everything is possible with some flexibility, and most Muslims get up very early for Suhoor so they have the strength to work and prepare for the Iftar. During the warmer months, Ramadan is more challenging because there are more hours of sunlight and thus, one has to fast for a longer time.


Now that we know a bit more about Ramadan and can understand a bit about what our Muslim neighbors experience during this time, we will also want to know how to let others know we are aware it's Ramadan.



A way to do this is to wish someone who is observing Ramadan, a "Ramadan Mubarak" (blessed Ramadan). 


Thanks for reading, friends! If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below!


If you'd like to join us for one of our multicultural cooking classes, please find the class that works best for you here. Or, you can email me at: sharon@cookingwithkidsNY.com.