Ramadan: 6 things you always wanted to know but were afraid to ask

The Muslim holy month of Ramadan began Tuesday for the world's 1.6 billion Muslims. If you're like many of those not included in that number, you may have some questions about Ramadan. What exactly is it? How do Muslims survive if they can't eat for a month?

'You always end up a better person after Ramadan'

Omair Imtiaz of Charlottetown answers questions about Ramadan. (Submitted by Omair Imtiaz)

The Muslim holy month of Ramadan began Tuesday for the world's 1.6 billion Muslims. 

If you're like many of those not included in that number, you may have some questions about Ramadan. What exactly is it? How do Muslims survive if they can't eat for a month? 

Omair Imtiaz, 28, emigrated to the Maritimes from Dubai in the United Arab Emirates six years ago and fell in love with P.E.I. — and an Island woman. He's a resident care worker and part-time superhero — he plays Spiderman for kids through his wife's party-planning business. 

He describes the rules of Ramadan as simple but challenging.

"It's an endurance thing, but it will make you a stronger person."

1. What exactly is Ramadan?

Ramadan is the ninth and holiest month of the Islamic calendar, the month when the Qur'an was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad, said Imtiaz. 

Muslims abstain from eating and drinking — even water — from sun-up to sundown, and forgo smoking, alcohol and sex.

Muslims get back to their faith, re-reading the Qur'an, praying and doing acts of charity.

"It's a time to really connect with God and strengthen your relationship with him," said Imtiaz. 

2. What is the purpose of fasting?

There are three elements to fasting, said Imtiaz. 

First, to train yourself to delay gratification — you'll appreciate eating and drinking more.

"At sunset, the simple act of drinking water is so much more enjoyable," he said. "It's absolutely amazing!"

Resisting temptation to eat and drinking during the (long) daylight hours of Ramadan is 'definitely a challenge and a struggle,' shares Imtiaz. (CBC)

Second, to overcome excess. If you're a smoker or a drinker, Imtiaz said Ramadan is a great time to correct yourself. If you can restrict food and water intake, then you can resist these temptations, too, he asserts.

Lastly, fasting helps Muslims feel empathy with those who are hungry and thirsty every day.

3. How do you resist temptation?

"It's definitely a challenge and a struggle," Imtiaz shared. 

Ramadan is a time to feel your soul and forget the demands of the body, he said. 

"Think of it like God is watching you 24/7," said Imtiaz. "We know that he is, but Ramadan is a time to remind yourself constantly."

4. What if you forget?

If it's by mistake, don't worry about it, said Imtiaz.

"You normally remember by the first sip of water," he laughed.

If you do forget and eat something, "we consider that a blessing from God. God just gave you a little gift." 

5. Do you lose weight during Ramadan? 

That's a common misconception — but Imtiaz said most Muslims struggle not to gain weight during the month. 

"They eat after sunset, and they eat and eat and eat — to the point where they can't really pray after that!" he laughed. 

Imtiaz has a sense of humour about fasting, posting a delicious-looking banana cake recipe to his Facebook page and apologizing to those who are fasting. 

6. What can Islanders do to support their Muslim friends?

Is it rude to eat in front of a Muslim who is fasting? Back in Dubai, eating in public during Ramadan is forbidden out of respect, Imtiaz said.

Traditional prayers mark the end of Ramadan, the Eid Al-Fitr holiday, which Imtiaz describes as like Islamic Christmas. (Bryan R. Smith/AP)

Here in North America, where freedom of religion is a constitutional right, Imtiaz urges non-Muslims not to worry.

"We are really here not to be accommodated, but to accommodate what God commanded us to do," said Imtiaz. 

"If you want to eat that juicy Island burger, then go right ahead. But just don't offer it to us if you know we are fasting!"

He also encourages people to give to the Give 30 campaign that supports Canadian food banks. 

If you really want to impress your Muslim friends, greet them with the phrase "Ramadan Mubarak" which basically means "happy Ramadan," said Imtiaz.

"They will be very pleasantly surprised and be happy that people around them are learning about their holidays." 

As a courtesy, schedule dinner parties after sunset when inviting Muslim friends, he added.