Student Blog: Simon Percival’s Academic English Class Research Ramadan

As Ramadan is a very important festival for many of our students at English Language Centre York, Simon's Academic English class decided to conduct research amongst the diverse mix of students at the school in order to help fill the gaps about this important Muslim festival for those who aren't sure what it is. Scroll down to see the class's video.


What pops into your mind when you hear about Ramadan? We are pretty sure that the first thing is 'FASTING' (no eating, no drinking), isn't it? If so, you might be interested to continue reading. Thinking about it, we decided to talk about this significant period for Muslim people. So, what does Ramadan really mean and why do Muslims do this? The word Ramadan comes from the Arabic word 'ramida', which means scorching heat or dryness. Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam and it is obligatory for adult Muslims, with some exceptions. During this period (29-30 days), from dawn until sunset, Muslims refrain from consuming food, drinking liquids, smoking, having sexual relations and they also avoid gossiping, insulting people, backbiting, cursing, lying and fighting since those may negate the reward of fasting: 'thawab'. Muslims say that Ramadan is done to purify their bodies and souls and also to empathise with the experiences of poor people.

Ramadan is the ninth month in the Islamic lunar calendar. What makes Ramadan so special is that it is one of the three holy months in Islam. Aisha Grani wrote in “Ramadan: a guide to Islamic holy month” (the Guardian, 2015) that it is a time when Muslims try to purify their souls, come closer to God, understand the poor and make stronger bounds to the people that they know. That’s why Ramadan is not only one thing, but many.

The most commonly known thing about Ramadan is the fasting. It’s called “sawm” in Arabic, which means "to refrain". All Muslims should follow all five pillars, if there is no reason that an individual can't. The other four pillars, other than fasting, are the declaration of faith, the five daily prayers, Zakat (charity) and the pilgrimage to Mecca.

But Ramadan is not only about fasting. As it is stated in the Quran the best charity is given in that period, so most give Zakat at this time. Zakat is like a tax that goes to the poor, that every adult Muslim should give. The amount that an individual needs to give is dependent on the income and wealth of the individual.

Ramadan has a long historical background.

Chapter 2, Revelation 185, of the Quran states:
“The month of Ramadan is that in which the Quran was revealed.” Muslims believe that the month of Ramadan, the holiest month in the Muslim calendar, coincides with the initial revealing of the Quran. Of particular importance is the “Night of Power” or Laylat al-Qadr.

On that day God told Mohammad that fasting for his sake was not a new innovation in monotheism, but rather an obligation practiced by those truly devoted to the greatness of God.

The rule to observe fasting during Ramadan was sent down 18 months after Hijra (the start of Islamic calendar) in 624 CE.

Survey Result

According to our survey (conducted with ten Muslim and ten non-Muslim students), we found quite different answers between the two groups.

In answer to the question 'what do you know about Ramadan?' it seems that 'fasting' is general knowledge which is mentioned by all Muslim students and 8 non-Muslim students.

When we turn to some more detailed questions, like 'When does it start?' and 'How long does it last?' non-Muslim students can only give rough ideas. On the other hand, all Muslim students know the exact answers.

The survey shows, non-Muslim students may not know as much about Ramadan as they thought. It also suggests that Muslim students have a full awareness of Ramadan.

SURVEY: About Ramadan
1. What do you know about Ramadan?
2. When does it start?
3. Is it every year?
4. How long does it last?
5. When & Where did Ramadan begin?

Extra questions for Muslim students
1. How different is Ramadan between different countries?
2. Why does it happen at that time?     
3. Who is exempt from fasting during Ramadan?
4. How do you prepare for Ramadan?

Can you imagine what it is like to have a house to sleep in today and tomorrow wake up in the middle of a street looking for a shelter? All we can be sure of is that you would feel extremely miserable. For some situations in life we need a minimum amount of preparation, Cristiano Ronaldo for instance, to play at the highest level, needs to train a lot. Then now we ask: is there any preparation for Ramadan?

There are many arguments about this. Some people give tips to be ready for Ramadan such as:

• Voluntary fasting
• Using polite language (no offensive language)
• Voluntary prayer
• Read the Quran as much as possible.

On the other hand, some Muslim people just go directly into this period without any kind of preparation, which can cause some problems in people’s metabolism.


Eid-al-Fitr is the party known as the "Festival of breaking the Fast" and normally takes about three days. The festival starts on the day of the first sighting of the crescent moon shortly after sunset. Usually Eid-al-Fitr is celebrated with common greetings, communal prayers, decorations of the houses and people get dressed in their finest clothes. In addition, the party includes an obligatory act of charity. Mostly, money is given to poor people or meals are shared together. Muslims show their gratitude to God but the celebration is also an occasion of entertainment. During the days of Eid-al-Fitr Muslims visit their neighbours or family members to have a good time together.

Eid-al Fitr is not celebrated everywhere in exactly the same way. For example in Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka the celebrations begin one day before the actual day of festivity. Often the party continues for a whole week. In Saudi-Arabia, Qatar, Oman and Kuwait Muslims put large rugs in selected neighbourhood streets or mosques. Sometimes some spectacular fireworks take place. In the South East of Asia (Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei) oil lamps are used to light around the house and as decoration.

Rules of Ramadan

Fasting during the month of Ramadan (29-30 days) is one of the main pillars of Islam. It is compulsory for every sane, healthy and mature Muslim.

However, there are some circumstances which allow someone not to participate in the Ramadan fast.

First of all, there are two essential elements which must be respected in order to make the fast valid and accepted:

1) the intention: it is necessary to express the intention to fast before every night during the month.
2) abstention from acts which make the fast void.

Those who fast must avoid eating or drinking, having sex, smoking and telling lies, among other practices.

In addition to fasting, Muslims are supposed to pray five times per day during the whole period of Ramadan. The main prayers are:
-Fajr (morning)
-Dhuhr (early afternoon)
-Asr (late afternoon)
-Magrib (late evening)
-Isha (night)

Between Magrib and Fajr Muslims are allowed to break the fast.

The only exceptions from fasting are for elderly people and people who have weak immune system (serious health issues), children before puberty, or women who are pregnant, menstruating, or breastfeeding. Another reason which allows Muslims to break the rules, is being a traveller. This originated in the past, when people travelled by themselves or with animals for long distances for up to several months. Conversely, nowadays, people who travel have benefits and comforts during their journey (by plane, train, car etc.). Despite these facts, there are discussions about what qualifies as a “journey” these days.

However, people who are exempt from Ramadan for temporary reasons (such as pregnant women), have to pay 'compensation' before the next Ramadan. This means they must follow the rules and fast at the end of their temporarily unsuitable state. For instance, a woman during her special days of the month, should add these days, in which she didn't fast, on to the end of the Ramadan month.

Conversely, elderly people follow different rules. In this case, the compensation consists of being charitable with people in need (e.g. giving food).

To sum up, Ramadan is a holy festival, which involves the Muslim community and takes place in the 9th month of the Islamic calendar. Our results, show that a great percentage of people do not have a detailed knowledge about that traditional Muslim occasion. This is the main reason why we made this video, in order to help you understand more easily.

We hope you will enjoy!


By Fausto Mulaza (Angolan), Patty Goncalves (Angolan), Camilla Cocozza (Italian), Carlos Cunha (Angolan), Marina Hitz (Swiss), Rebecca Giovannini (Italian), Heejeong Kang (Korean), Naseebah Althanyan (Saudi), Samuel Lermytte (French), Chiaki Nagata (Japanese), Miaoyu Wang (Chinese), Miguel Ferraz (Angolan), Philip Borndalen (Swedish), Francesca Magnoni (Italian)

Would you like to join our international mix of students at English Language Centre York? Click here to find out more about the school and the English language courses on offer. 

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