Fasting involves refraining from water, food and spousal relations from dawn to sunset. It is an exercise in self-control designed to bring a Muslim closer to God [Allāh in Arabic]. Muslims are required to fast the entire lunar month of Ramaḍān.
Iftār refers to the act of breaking the fast at sunset time each day. Muslims break their fast with a light snack (typically water and a couple dates) and pray the ritual sunset prayer [maghrib]. After the prayer, they start the main meal which is usually enjoyed with friends and family.
The significance of Ramaḍān lies in the fact that it is the month in which the Qurān, the Muslim religious text, was first revealed. It is considered the holiest month of the year.
Ramadan is a month spent fasting, praying, giving charity, reciting Qurān, and seeking forgiveness from God and from others that one may have wronged.
In addition to the “outward fasting” of food, drink and relations, Muslims also perform an “inward fasting” in which they refrain from cursing, gossiping or anything inappropriate.
On fasting, God states in the Qurān:
“You who believe, fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may be mindful of God.” (link)
The Qurān teaches Muslims that fasting isn’t to lose weight or to suffer throughout the day. Rather, it’s a means of becoming more aware of God in our actions and for the blessings He’s given us.
Muslims were taught by the Prophet Muhammad (may God bless and preserve his legacy) that, “There are two joys for the fasting person: the joy when he breaks his fast, and the joy of when he meets his Lord.”
Muslims are also encouraged to help others if they are not physically capable of fasting. The Prophet Muhammad said, “Whoever feeds a person breaking his fast will earn the same reward as him without anything being lessened from the reward of the fasting person.”
Not even water?
Yes, Muslims are prohibited from consuming liquids and solids, of all types, during the fasting hours.
Are all Muslims required to fast?
Muslims who have reached the age of puberty must fast the month of Ramaḍān. Those who are mentally handicapped, physically unable due to illness, traveling, and women who are pregnant, breastfeeding or on their menstrual cycle are exempt from fasting.
Is Iftār different from any other meals?
Muslims are encouraged by Prophet Muhammad to control their intake. Although they may not have eaten the entire day, they are still encouraged to eat in moderate proportions.
Specifically, Prophet Muhammad taught, “A human being can’t fill a vessel worse than his stomach. It is sufficient for a human being to eat a few mouthfuls to keep his spine straight. But if he must (fill it), then one third of food, one third for drink and one third for air.”