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Discovering Ramadan 2024: Fasting, Charity and Spiritual Nourishment

Updated: Mar 29

All over the world, almost 1.9 billion people have joined together for one special time of the year, Ramadan 2024. How these nearly two billion people observe this holy month on the Islamic calendar may differ based on their local traditions and culture. Still, three things are certain: there will be fasting, there will be praying, and there will be an abundance given in charity. 

Historical and Cultural Context of Ramadan  


Ramadan's origins can be traced back to the seventh century when the Quran, the holy book of Islam, was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. The month of Ramadan was established as a period of fasting and reflection, commemorating the Quran's revelation and serving as a time for believers to strengthen their connection with Allah (God) through acts of worship and devotion. 


Throughout history, Ramadan has played a pivotal role in shaping Islamic civilization, growing a sense of community and identity among Muslims worldwide. From the early Islamic empires to the present day, Ramadan has been celebrated with diverse rituals and traditions, reflecting the rich Islamic culture and heritage. 


In addition to its religious significance, Ramadan holds deep cultural significance for Muslim communities around the world. It is a time for families to come together, for neighbors to share meals, and for communities to strengthen bonds of kinship. From the bustling markets of Istanbul to the tranquil villages of Malaysia, Ramadan is celebrated with fervor and joy, uniting people of all backgrounds in good faith. 

When is Ramadan 2024?  


Ramadan started on March 10 or 11th at sundown (depending on whether the moon was sighted in the region) and will end at sundown on April 9th.  The Islamic calendar is a purely lunar calendar; it only follows the moon cycle. In a children's song by the famous singer Cat Steven, who now uses the moniker Yusuf Islam, a sort of Ramadan 101 lesson is given.  In his lyrics, he describes the excitement of children running up a hill, hoping to see the long-awaited return of the Ramadan moon, signifying the start of this important month for Muslims. Yusuf Islam & Children – Ramadan Moon | I Look I See Animated Series

Ramadan’s date on the Gregorian calendar changes by about ten days each year. That means that over time, Ramadan will be experienced in all seasons. In places like Saudi Arabia and Singapore, this doesn't have a significant impact on the number of hours Muslims must abstain from food and drink in their sunup to sundown fast. However, in places in the far north, like Iceland, a fast in the summer means fasting for almost 22 hours.  In a report from CNBC in 2018, when Ramadan fell in the summer, local Muslims dedicated themselves to fasting for the entire 22 hours. With Ramadan 2024 beginning in March, some Muslims say it will come with the ease of cooler weather and shorter days as compared to summer.  The longest fasts in 2024 will still be 18 hours in Iceland and Greenland. This dedication is very inspirational for Muslims who are only fasting for 15 hours in other parts of the world. 

Physical Benefits of Fasting  


Recently, intermittent fasting has caught the attention of doctors and dieticians.  “Many things happen during intermittent fasting that can protect organs against chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, age-related neurodegenerative disorders, even inflammatory bowel disease and many cancers,” says Dr. Mark P. Matteson, who co-authored a report on intermittent fasting for The New England Journal of Medicine. For Muslims, this is just the tip of the iceberg.  


More specifically recent studies show there are time frames in which the body executes healing during fasting. At around 15 hours, the body initiates cellular cleanup, eliminating detrimental cells. As fasting progresses, the body undergoes a series of metabolic changes: from utilizing stored fat for energy at 14 hours to a surge in human growth hormone production at 18 hours. By the 24-hour mark, a process called autophagy begins, clearing glycogen stores and releasing ketones into the bloodstream, enhancing overall physical well-being. 


The benefits of fasting are well documented. As new discoveries are shared each year, it’s no wonder that so many Muslims and many other people from all walks of life worldwide enjoy fasting. Though, for Muslims during Ramadan, fasting extends beyond the physical into the metaphysical. The true motivating factor behind the 30 day fast of Ramadan is spiritual.  



Spiritual Dimensions of Ramadan  


What inspires billions of individuals to observe the rigorous fasting rituals of Ramadan? In the Quran, regarded as the word of God by Muslims, fasting is prescribed as a means to cultivate mindfulness of God and one’s actions in this life: 


"O you who have believed, decreed upon you is fasting as it was decreed upon those before you that you may become righteous." (Quran 2:183) 


The motivation behind fasting and engaging in additional acts of worship, such as recitation of the Quran, remembrance of God (dhikr), and extra prayers (salat), extends beyond religious obligation. It is a quest for spiritual fulfillment, a journey towards closeness to the Divine. 


“If I were to try to describe Ramadan, it would be the incredible serenity and peace that one feels when fasting and additional acts of worship. It is a fulfillment that I have not felt anywhere else on this earth. It uplifts the heart in unimaginable ways, it makes you feel whole, peaceful and connected to the greatest force there is, God.”- Angela, 32 a Muslim living in Canada. 


Though unseen, the drive to have these kinds of religious experiences is certainly felt. “Ramadan is not just about fasting. It’s about purifying the soul and seeking closeness to Allah (God).” – Yasmin Mogahed, Muslim author and speaker. 


While giving a lecture in 2018, Yasmin made this statement to encourage Muslims to get the most out of Ramadan. Ramadan should be used to purify one's heart, practice gratitude, and to obtain a closer relationship with Allah by going beyond the physical act of abstaining from food and drink and focusing on the spiritual dimensions of increased worship and devotion.  


Acts of worship during Ramadan, such as giving in charity (Zakat) and voluntary donations (Sadaqah), serve as avenues for spiritual purification and compassion. Zakat, obligatory for eligible Muslims, is not just a financial obligation but a means of cleansing one's wealth and fostering empathy for those in need. 


Zakat is mandatory for Muslims who meet specific criteria to pay 2.5% of their wealth to charitable causes. This act of charity is called Zakat, and it is used to purify one’s wealth.  Research shows Muslims in the US alone gave nearly $2 billion in Zakat in 2021. This is an unofficial number as much of the Zakat payments are sent overseas or paid in some other unofficial way.  It’s estimated that over $600 billion is paid in Zakat globally. 

Another significant spiritual aspect of Ramadan is the Taraweeh prayer (voluntary  prayer), performed during the nights of Ramadan. This voluntary prayer, draws crowds of worshippers to mosques, to the point that they often overflow onto the streets. Here Muslims engage in prolonged sessions of prayer and supplication. The atmosphere is one of reverence and spiritual intensity, as believers seek spiritual nourishment and closeness to the Divine. 


In essence, Ramadan is a time of profound spiritual reflection and renewal, where Muslims around the world strive to transcend the physical realm and connect with God. It is a journey of the soul, guided by the teachings of Islam, towards greater spiritual nourishment and proximity to God.  

Photo of people praying at a mosque. 



Global Perspectives in Ramadan 


Ramadan's observance varies widely across the globe, with each region adding its unique cultural flavors to this sacred month. In Southeast Asia, countries like Indonesia and Malaysia embrace Ramadan with a blend of religious devotion and cultural celebration. Families come together for Iftar meals featuring traditional dishes such as Nasi Lemak, a fragrant rice cooked in coconut milk and served with anchovies, peanuts, boiled eggs, and cucumber. Another meal is Rendang, a spicy meat dish slow-cooked in coconut milk and a mixture of lemongrass, galangal, garlic, turmeric, ginger, and chilies. For dessert, Kuih is served, an assortment of traditional sweets and desserts. The tradition of Ramadan Bazaars spring to life in these regions, with vibrant markets offering an array of delicious street food, snacks, and traditional handicrafts. 


In North America and Europe, Ramadan takes on a multicultural dimension, with cities like London and New York becoming melting pots of diverse traditions. Open Iftar events and interfaith gatherings promote inclusivity, helping to grow understanding among different communities. Here, Iftar meals may include a fusion of traditional dishes from various cultures, such as biryani, a fragrant Indian rice dish cooked with spices, meat, and vegetables, falafel, deep-fried chickpea patties, hummus, a creamy dip made from mashed chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice, and garlic and so much more. Additionally, community-led initiatives like Iftar Feeding Programs and Charity Events are common, aiming to provide meals for those less fortunate and promote social cohesion. 


Across Africa, from Cairo to Senegal, Ramadan is marked by deep spiritual devotion and cultural richness. Colorful are the decorations that adorn mosques, as are the clothes that the people wear. The aroma of traditional dishes fills the air as families gather for Iftar. Traditional African dishes such as Ful Medames, stewed fava beans seasoned with olive oil, garlic, and lemon juice, Tagine, slow-cooked savory stews prepared with meat, vegetables, and spices and sambusa, triangular pastry filled with spiced meat or vegetables are commonly enjoyed during Ramadan. In addition to culinary delights, vibrant street processions known as Taraweeh Walks are a common sight, where communities come together to walk to the mosque for evening prayers, accompanied by drums, chants, and lively celebrations. 

Personal Reflections  

A few of our supporters, Muslims and non-Muslims, shared their personal perspectives of Ramadan giving you a window into how Ramadan has touched many hearts all over the world.


“Ramadan in Egypt is magical. As a foreigner, I had never seen such a long time dedicated to the service of others. It is a beautiful time to be in a Muslim country. Selfishly, it was hard not to have all the restaurants working all day, or the bank only open for a few hours (on a good day), and all other things grinding to a halt in a city that only stops once a year for a month. However, the selfless joy is all around you. 


I was lucky enough to spend eight Ramadans in Cairo. Three of those, I was even invited to the first iftar in someone’s home; it was never lost on me how special that was. I truly felt like part of the family. I was invited to countless opportunities to break the fast in my time there, but that first one is always an honor. I would always partake in fasting as well if I was invited to an iftar. It was in that unity that I felt part of something bigger; there aren’t many moments in life that have impacted me the way these have. 


Ramadan to me means togetherness. It means being included. My most recent Ramadan was in 2022. The first night was on my daughter’s second birthday. We had a party for her along with the first iftar. Watching my dear friend’s family making a space for my daughter’s moment during the most important one for them still reminds me how wonderful our Islamic community is. 


Of course, we cannot leave out the food. I was beginning to think that I needed an intervention in regard to my love for konafa (in particular, of the mango variety). If you have ever had the pleasure of being invited to an iftar in someone’s home, there is more food than you can even imagine. It is all good and was all made with love. Much like an American Thanksgiving, there are roles assigned to who makes what; only the best-of-the-best will do. Unlike American Thanksgiving, these delicious meals take place for a whole month. A month of fellowship and laughter. Lanterns and bright patterns. There is a special feeling in the air at the table and lining all the streets. 

The best part of Ramadan, though, is empathy. The whole purpose is to feel hungry and experience discomfort to remind us that there are those who live like this every day. It is a season of giving to others and making sure that everyone feels seen. And loved. It taught me to always try to keep myself in check in regards to not only being grateful for all I have but also being aware of those that do not. To help when I can, in any way I can. Ramadan will forever be my favorite time to be in Egypt.”- Kim Philot, a non-Muslim American from Georgia who spent eight years in Egypt working as a teacher. 


“Ramadan carries both personal and religious significance for me. I am a university student in Canada, but my family is back in Pakistan. During Ramadan, I am incredibly homesick.  A group of us Muslim students come together for some Iftars and will sometimes go to the mosque together but it’s never going to beat being at home. During video calls, I see my whole family surrounding the table at Iftar, eating fresh samosas and drinking ice-cold mango milkshakes when Ramadan comes in the warmer months.  Back home, I always joined my dad and brother at the mosque to pray at night.  I have so many good memories of going to restaurants with friends at 3 am to eat sehri, the last meal before starting your fast each morning.  Restaurants are closed during the day but open all night during Ramadan.  I especially miss how there are no exams or heavy work schedules during Ramadan.  Fasting is an amazing spiritual experience, but it makes it very difficult to maintain the same schedule and meet the same work and school expectations.”- Ali Rafik, a university student from Pakistan living in Texas. 

“The blessings and peace that come with Ramadan keep me yearning for it all year. It’s like a realignment of my spiritual compass, like a potent reconnection with Allah. Having spent most of my Ramadans in Dubai, I miss going to the mosque to pray Taraweeh. The United Arab Emirates is a small country with many beautiful mosques. I truly miss the sound of Azaan filling its skies. The petrol pumps giving out small iftar packs to everyone present at the time of Magrib was such a great initiative!  Dubai is also known for its lavish Iftar tents, beautifully decorated Malls, and multiple Ramadan activities and festivals around the city to keep the kids involved and interested. Helping to fund and package iftar meals alongside the many small charity organizations there that personally delivered these Ramadan baskets to people in need was something I looked forward to every year. It was a heartwarming tradition that brought unlimited joy and peace to my heart. 


Now that I am married with kids living in Canada, I struggle to keep the Ramadan spirit ignited. Fasts are long and draining. Time restraints and responsibilities sometimes mean hasty prayers and skipping Taraweeh. I miss opening my fast to the sound of the Azaan instead of checking the clock for Maghrib time. Not having neighbors with whom we would exchange iftar boxes (another lovely tradition we had back in Dubai) is a bummer. It’s a challenge to truly celebrate the spirit of Ramadan when you are living in a non-Muslim country. Still, Ramadan always feels like a restart, a cleansing of the soul and heart, a clean slate.”- Anam Tariq, raised in UAE, now raising a family in Canada. 


LIFE During Ramadan


LIFE celebrates our diverse community, empathy, equality and helping each other. In the season of Ramadan, and many other holiday seasons around the world, LIFE supports its donors with an array of projects to give to. You can give with confidence and assurance that your gifts are reaching those who they are intended for.  

We use donations received in Ramadan to support our Ramadan projects. Your donations have made a profound impact on the world. Last Ramadan, we were able to feed over 8 million people! This Ramadan, we are again asking you, our supporters and the global Muslim community to come together and support those who need it most. We will utilize your Zakat (mandatory charity) and Sadaqah (optional charity) in these vital areas: food distribution, water well construction, orphan sponsorship, and aid for Gaza.  

Ramadan is not just for Muslims but for everyone. This month, regardless of your religion or location, let us all celebrate together, embodying the spirit of Ramadan by practicing compassion and giving. Let our care and concern for others be a guiding force in our lives.



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