Preparing for Ramadan 2023

Optometrist Shamina Asif looks ahead to the Muslim holy month and tackles common questions patients and colleagues might have

Pixabay/Ahmed Sabry
This year, Ramadan will run from Wednesday, 22 March to Friday, 21 April.

The latest data from the General Optical Council reveals that one in five optometrists and dispensing opticians are Muslim, while four in ten student optometrists are Muslim.

OT caught up with optometrist and Dudley local optical committee chair, Shamina Asif, for her insight on the Muslim Holy month.

My Ramadan: Shamina reflects on what Ramadan means to her

The best moment is…

All the family coming together every day to eat a wide variety of food and open their fast.

How I would describe Eid celebrations…

Eid celebrations involve meeting everyone from the community at the mosque. We say Eid Mubarak and hug three times (don’t ask me why). During Eid, families get together and dress up. There is lots of food and gifts.

How I feel the week before Ramadan…

Super excited, buzzing with energy. I prepare my Islamic books, diaries and my prayer area ready for worshipping God and getting ready spiritually.

What I am grateful for…

The fact that we are fortunate to have so much food to open our fast with, the beautiful community feeling experienced during the holy month, and most importantly that we are living in a tolerant country where we are able to practise our religion freely. There are many areas in the world where Muslims don’t have these luxuries.

Q & A: Ramadan

Why do Muslims fast?

Fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam. The other pillars include believing in God and that Mohammed was the last prophet, praying five times, giving to charity, and performing the pilgrimage to Mecca once in your lifetime.

Fasting is not exclusive to Islam; there are many other religions where fasting forms an integral part. The whole idea of fasting is to become a lot more God-conscious, conscious of yourself, and of everyone around you. As a result, we become more grateful for everything we have.

Ramadan teaches us that overindulgence in food can distract us from the needs of our soul. One of the things that Muslims understand is that consumption acts as a distraction from contemplation. In the pursuit of more we can lose the pursuit of why: why we are here and what our purpose is. Ramadan is about reflecting on this so that we can be the best version of ourselves especially for people around us.

Why is Eid not on a specific day?

Eid and the start of Ramadan is based on a lunar calendar. Since the lunar calendar is about 11 days shorter than the solar year, Islamic holidays shift through different seasons over years – this means every 33 years or so Ramadan is in the winter, where the days are really short, and fasting is easier.

In Saudi Arabia, the moon phase is determined using astronomical calculation in combination with observation by the naked eye. The presence of the new moon crescent in Mecca means Eid will be the following day. Muslims in the UK either follow Saudi Arabia and celebrate Eid at the same time or they look at the astronomical data to see if the new crescent can be visible from the UK.

As the UK is further away from Saudi Arabia, it is possible for the moon to be sighted in Mecca but not in the UK. This can mean some Muslims celebrate Eid on a different day (usually there is only a difference of one day). This is why you may have Muslim employees asking for holidays over a couple of days – it all depends on moon sighting and what their local mosque announces.

It is also interesting to note that other religions initially followed the lunar calendar such as Buddhism, Hinduism, and Judaism. However, as some religious holidays are confined to particular seasons the lunar calendar became the solar-lunar calendar where an extra month was added periodically to align with the solar calendar so that holidays could be kept the same each year.

Why do charity donations increase during Ramadan?

During Ramadan we are withholding ourselves from food and drink. As you abstain from those blessings voluntarily you also voluntarily spend from what you have been given to those people who may not have as much as you, locally or globally. It is an important part of our religion to give to charity. The Muslim community becomes particularly generous in Ramadan just like the prophet Mohammed was. We strive to become like the prophet: indiscriminate so that anyone in our path that we encounter we will give to – literally like ‘blowing winds.’ Generosity is not limited to finances, it’s about one’s own spirit, giving and even smiling.

Is it offensive to eat or drink in front of someone observing Ramadan?

The purpose of fasting is not to inconvenience other people – it’s about being strong willed. It is not offensive at all to eat or drink in front of someone during Ramadan. Most Muslims are used to fasting from a young age and so are accustomed to people eating and drinking in front of them. It is better to just be normal. Making a big deal of eating in front of someone fasting just makes the situation awkward. You may notice that Muslims will probably go and spend time to read the Quran or pray rather than sitting in the staff room – this is because all good deeds performed during Ramadan are multiplied by 70 and so many people will take any opportunity to worship God.

What can you do with Muslim colleagues in your organisations to celebrate the holy months and Eid?

You can arrange Eid gifts, an Iftar meal so that everyone is opening their fast together or even a simple acknowledgement to say Ramadan Mubarak – meaning have a blessed Ramadan. This is a great way to make your Muslim employees and colleagues feel included.

You could organise an Eid meal – it’s like having a Christmas meal. Once fasting is over and we have celebrated Eid with family, it would be nice if work colleagues organised going out with Muslim colleagues after Ramadan for a meal.