There are almost three million Muslims in the UK، and this week they are getting ready for the most important period in their religious calendar، the holy month of Ramadan. During Ramadan، it is compulsory to fast for every Muslim who is mentally and physically healthy - but there can be exceptions. Children are normally exempt until they are 14 (age of puberty)، but they are encouraged from around the age of 10 to gradually start giving up some food and drink during Ramadan، to be prepared for when they are old enough for the full fasting. Also excluded are the elderly، the sick، those who are severely mentally ill، and women who are pregnant، breastfeeding or having their period. However، these are still expected to make up for the exemption، by either fasting at a later day when they are better، or by offering a meal to someone needy or poor every day of Ramadan.
During Ramadan، the day begins with the suhur، the early morning meal، and the fasting is broken with the evening meal، iftaar. Times vary according to each region، but in the UK the suhur is around 3am and the iftaar around 9pm، meaning that the fast can last around 18 hours every day.
These hours are regulated by five sets of daily prayers، whose timings are again calculated around sunrise and sunset. It is after sunset، for the iftaar، that families and friends gather to break their fast - iftaar literally translates as 'break fast'. The end of Ramadan each year is celebrated with the Eid al-Fitr، the ‘festival of the breaking of the fast’. Muslims gather with family and friends to celebrate، and wish each other a happy Eid by saying Eid Mubarak.
Ramadan was particularly hard in 2016 because it was in the period leading up to (and including) the longest day of the year: because the fast takes place from a couple of hours before sunrise (which can be before 4am in the UK) to sunset (after 10pm in Scotland)، it meant very long fasting days.
This will also happen in 2017، as this year also Ramadan falls over the summer solstice، the day of the year with the maximum amount of daylight in the northern emisphere. Also، in 2017، the General Election and the GCSE and A-Level exams will all fall during Ramadan، creating an additional challenge for those taking part.