As the sun sets this evening, Muslims around the world will observe Ramadan, a month of fasting and religious reflection that takes place every year.
One of the five pillars of Islam, Ramadan commemorates the Quran first being revealed to the Prophet Muhammad; a moment honored with abstinence from food and water, cigarettes and sexual activity during daylight hours.
But for British Muslims across the country, Ramadan also means being asked the same silly questions about fasting by their well-intentioned but clueless friends and colleagues.
Non-Muslims have an uncanny knack for reacting awkwardly when they hear that someone sat next to them is fasting and are prone to wildly over-apologising for slights, gaffes and insensitivities they often haven’t actually committed, making matters worse when all they needed to do was chill out.
The Independent’s Shehab Khan, who is observing Ramadan, is here to clear up some popular misconceptions.
Turkey Eid al Fitr
So why does Ramadan fall on a different date every year?
The Islamic calendar is 11 days shorter than the Gregorian calendar and the date of Ramadan therefore shifts each year.
The start and end date of Ramadan, which marks the celebration of Eid, is meanwhile determined by the sighting of the moon.
How do you know when sunset is?
The best way for Muslims to check the precise timing is with their local mosque. Or, you know, just google it.
Jokes aside, this is actually a good question. The sun sets at marginally different times across the country – a minute later in Newcastle than in Sunderland and a whole half an hour earlier in London than Edinburgh.
This is important because breaking the fast even a minute too early could render the day invalid, so it’s vital for hungry families who are counting down the minutes to know precisely when the moment comes.
Aren’t there health risks to consider?
Fasting is not supposed to hinder your health, so anyone with a pre-existing medical condition likely to fall ill as a result of the fast is not expected to adhere to it.
It is for this reason that children, those on prescription medicines, the infirm and elderly, pregnant women and those on their period are not required to participate.
Ramadan in Russia
But you can’t eat at all?
Not between the hours of sunrise and sunset, no sir.
What really? All day?
Yeah, all day. Nothing at all. Zilch. Zero. Just that sweet oxygen.
But you must have had a massive feast beforehand, right?
It’s common for Muslims to treat themselves to a few farewell rounds of their favorite dishes before Ramadan begins but, after that, it’s very much a matter of personal preference.
Some go for soups, salad and dates while others are partial to samosas and kebabs.
Those who indulge with a hearty blowout are setting themselves up for a much worse bout of hunger the next day so many prefer to eat moderately.
Overdoing it with hot or salty foods, meanwhile, can leave you badly dehydrated and given that you can’t drink water the following day…
What, you can’t even drink water?
That’s the idea.
Don’t you get thirsty?
Can I eat in front of you?
Absolutely not. There’s a strong expectation that all non-Muslims must refrain from eating in the company of a fasting Muslim.
Doing otherwise is regarded as grossly offensive and insensitive.
Oh yes. Every time some non-Muslim eats during Ramadan, a fairy dies of sadness and then bursts into flames.
Is brushing your teeth allowed?
This is a contentious issue, but some say as long as you’re not actually devouring Colgate by the tube, it’s fine.
However, some devout Muslims feel uneasy about the practice and prefer to brush with a finely-fibred miswak twig instead.
Can you swallow your own saliva?
Don’t be an idiot.
How about alcohol?
At least you’ll lose weight, right?
In the short term, yes, you might do, depending on how much you consume in the evenings.
But given that your metabolism quickly adjusts to your calorie intake, you will quickly put the pounds back on afterwards when you return to your usual dietary regime.
Looking beach-ready is not really the main goal of this solemn observance anyway. Its true purpose is to bring followers closer to Allah and prompt a re-evaluation of yourself as a Muslim.