What is Ramadan and when is it celebrated in 2021?

Global Citizen By Cecilia Hendrix Apr 7, 2021

Do you want to learn more about the holy month of fasting? We asked our Western Union employees about their Ramadan traditions.

Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and one of the five pillars of Islam is observed by 1.9 billion Muslims worldwide as a holy month of prayer, reflection, and fasting. Ramadan follows the lunar calendar, meaning that the beginning of Ramadan changes every year.

In 2021, Ramadan begins on Monday, April 12, and will last until Tuesday, May 11 — generally beginning on the first sighting of the crescent moon one day after the new moon. The tradition of sighting the moon to signal the beginning of Ramadan varies across countries, along with the rituals and traditions.

During Ramadan, the practice of fasting, or “ṣawm”, is required for all able-bodied Muslims. During the fast, Muslims refrain from eating or drinking from dawn until sunset. The exceptions to this are those that are ill, pregnant or nursing, menstruating, or traveling. Young children and elders are also exempted from fasting.

For Muslims, fasting is a practice of self-restraint to bring themselves closer to Allah, or God. Ramadan is a time for spiritual reflection, prayer, doing good deeds, and spending time with family and friends.

To learn more about the holy month, we asked our Western Union employees about their practices and how they will spend Ramadan in 2021.

  • Abdenbi Amounan, 39, is our Assistant Marketing Manager for Europe and responsible for Digital Retail in the European-African market. Abdenbi lives in Mohammedia, a city in Morocco.
  • Rajaa El Korchi, 42, was born in France. She currently lives in London, UK, and is our Senior Recruiter for the EMEA region.
  • Moudar Mouhamed, 31, is the Senior Digital Products & Customer Success Specialist at Western Union. Moudar is from Aleppo, Syria, and lives in Vienna, Austria.


What is Ramadan about?

Abdenbi: “Ramadan, or Ramzan, is the month of prayer, fasting, and charity work. In this month, Muslims avoid eating and drinking from dawn to dusk. The meal before sunrise is called Suhoor (from Arabic “the time before dawn”), and the name for the meal after sunset is Iftar (literally “breakfast”). Traditionally, Muslim families prepare a lot of different foods to share with family members and poor neighbors.”

Moudar: “Ramadan is 30 days of relaxation, so everyone should be careful and try to do only positive things. It’s also important to be close to God. Ramadan is a time to be spent with family. We all come together daily for Iftar.”

Rajaa: “The spiritual aspect of Ramadan is to perform meditation and get closer to God. As an act of charity, we feed needy people surrounding the area we live in or abroad.”

What traditions does your family follow?

Abdenbi: “To break Ramadan with family during Iftar is the most important tradition to me. The first year I took part in fasting, I avoided doing sports during Ramadan. With time I understood that it’s not just about not eating and drinking, it’s more about being nice to everyone, to work, to do some sports, to increase patience, and to be kind and generous.”

Rajaa: “Every night there’s a nice gathering with the family to break the fast. The menu changes almost every day and is usually a traditional dish from Morocco like soup, samosas, and tagines. On the weekends, we’ll have gatherings with close friends. It is kind of a festive period (such as Christmas gathering but during a month) with spiritual and charity components to it.”


Do your friends celebrate with the same Ramdan rituals or are they different from yours?

Rajaa: “Only the traditional foods differ, depending on the background of the person.”

Moudar: “The most significant difference is whether you live in a village or a city. In the villages, there are a lot more people to visit at the end of Ramadan.”


Do you have a favorite Ramadan story you would like to share?

Rajaa: “My favorite Ramadan story was when I visited Palestine in 2019. I used to do meditation in the famous Mosque of Al Aqsa and share meals with locals in Jerusalem to break the fast. A Palestinian family gave me food because I could not get back into the hotel in time and that was my most emotional moment. I’ve also shared a meal to break the fast with a grandmother from Gaza. It was the first time she had been released from Gaza to travel to Jerusalem in 20 years.”


What is it like to live in a foreign country during Ramadan?

Moudar: “While it’s hard to see people eat and drink when you can’t, they try not to put extra pressure on me in Ramadan period — so far so good. But there are physical changes, too. At the beginning of Ramadan in the morning before the fasting time, I can eat everything and we usually buy a lot of stuff to eat in the evening. At the end of the month, we eat very little, as the body is not receptive to big amounts of food anymore.”

Rajaa: “It depends on which country you’re living in. In the UK, people are very tolerant and accept people from different backgrounds. They even feel sorry to eat in front of me during Ramadan.”



How do you find fasting from a spiritual and practical perspective?

Abdenbi: “From a spiritual as well as from a health perspective, fasting is a good thing.”

Moudar: “For me, it’s practical for health reasons, too. If you want to stop eating some kind of food or want to reduce the amount of coffee you drink every day or want to stop smoking cigarettes, Ramadan is the best time to do it as after Ramadan you can start from scratch. Your whole body is refreshed.”

Rajaa: “The most difficult part is to refrain from drinking water, however, for others, it would be cigarettes or coffee. After a week, you can feel the addictions weaken. What’s important to understand, and has been proven scientifically, is that fasting cleans the organs if you follow a healthy diet.”


What are the limitations of celebrating Ramadan during Covid-19?

Rajaa: “I hope to be able to go to France as last year it was really sad to be here in London by myself – I still have some hope that I will be able to celebrate it with friends and family.”

Abdenbi: “It will be harder this year because we can’t celebrate with the whole family. We’ll have to celebrate with a few friends, like last year.”

Moudar: “It’s the same for me being abroad, so I need to be sure that people I know, especially children, get their clothes and their gifts in time.”


Are sending money and giving gifts for Eid Al-Fitr common traditions?

Abdenbi: “During Ramadan, acts of charity are obligatory upon Muslims who are able to do so. Muslims are reminded to be generous and increase their charitable activities, like giving money or food to others.”

Rajaa: “Yes, we pick a name from my family, like Kris Kringle, and then we give the gift to that person. It is quite fun and a nice way to celebrate the end of Ramadan.”

Moudar: “After 30 days of Ramadan, there is a big three-day celebration called Eid Al-Fitr, or the Festival of Breaking of the Fast. Before Eid, every person should spend some money to support the disadvantaged members of the community. Then for Eid, the whole family gets new clothes. Usually, we meet my father’s family on the first day of Eid, my mother’s family on the second day, and friends on the third. If you live in a village, meeting family sometimes means visiting 70 homes in one day, with every visit taking 5 to 10 minutes. And then in the evening, we will select one home to stay there all together and talk, eat and celebrate.”


How did Eid Al-Fitr celebrations change when you moved abroad?

Moudar: “They changed a lot. When I’m away from home, like now, without neighbors who share the same traditions, I celebrate Eid visiting only 4 to 5 homes, but this is also because I live in a city. My friends, who live in the cities, meet fewer people, maybe up to 10 homes every Eid day.”

Rajaa: “For me, celebrations don’t change that much. The culture is very similar for every Muslim community. When I was in France, I was mainly gathering with family and close friends and in the UK, but mostly just with close friends. However, the rituals (food gathering and meditation) are very similar.”


What are your favorite ways of giving back this Ramadan?

Moudar: “I send a small amount of money, € 100 each to 3 to 5 families every year.”

Abdenbi: “I just send various gifts for Eid Al-Fitr.”

Rajaa: “I give back with charity and supporting people in need.”


Ramadan Kareem!

If you now want to wish your Muslim friends a “Happy Ramadan,” or a “Happy Eid al-Fitr,” you can do so by saying “Happy Ramadan!” or “Happy Eid!” You can also say “Ramadan Kareem,” which means “Have a generous Ramadan,” or “Eid Mubarak,” for “Have a blessed Eid.”

And if you want to be generous and send money to your family or people in need, you can do so with Western Union: via the app from virtually anywhere, from the comfort of your home with WU.com, or in person at your local agent location.[1]

Blessed Ramadan from Western Union!

[1] Please note that your choice can affect the transfer fee which is displayed before you continue with your transaction.

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