The 20 rules of Ramadan and what you can and can’t do

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The holy month of Ramadan is nearly here, which means a month of daily fasting for millions of people worldwide, including many of the Muslims living in London. As usual, the dates for Ramadan 2024 are determined by the first crescent of the new moon, as per the lunar calendar used across the Islamic world.

Ramadan holds special significance for Muslims worldwide. This ninth month of the Islamic calendar is when the Qur’an was revealed to the prophet Muhammad.

To celebrate the revelation of the holy scriptures, fasting is compulsory for all adult Muslims – except in special circumstances – on every day of the month. Fasting is undertaken from early morning to sunset each day.

The month lasts 29 or 30 days, depending on a sighting of the new moon to signal the start of Ramadan and then another moon sighting to determine the end of Ramadan and the start of the next month, Shawwal, reports Birmingham Live. But what exactly are the rules of Ramadan?

1. What fasting means

Fasting means no food or drink and also abstaining from bad habits and sins such as smoking, gambling, swearing, gossiping, arguing, fighting or being disrespectful, cruel or selfish. Sexual activity is also banned during the hours of fasting.

2. When to eat

Fasting runs each day between a pre-dawn meal (known as suhoor or sehri) and a meal after sunset (iftar).


3. Who fasts

All male and female adults (meaning anyone who has undergone puberty) must take part in fasting.

4. Exceptions

There are exceptions. Anyone who is ill or travelling during Ramadan and who doesn’t take part in the fasting must make up the days of fasting later.

5. Women

Women who are pregnant, menstruating or breastfeeding don’t have to fast. If you begin your period during Ramadan fasting, the fast is broken and you must make up for it later.

The fasting is still valid if it’s unintentionally broken when someone eats or drinks in a moment of forgetfulness

6. Elderly or ill

The elderly and chronically ill – including diabetics – are exempt from fasting, along with the severely mentally ill. Doctors can give advice on whether you are fit and well enough to fast.

7. What happens instead

Those with permanent health conditions who cannot take part in fasting are instead told to help the poor.

8. Making it up (fidyah)

When someone cannot fast in Ramadan and can’t make up the lost days afterwards (for example, due to being elderly or because of ill health, women who are pregnant, breastfeeding or menstruating), then they should pay for someone else to be fed. This is known as fidyah.

Islamic Relief says the present rate is £5 for each day that is missed (this should provide one person with two meals or two people with one meal. ) If someone misses all the fasts of Ramadan, they would need to pay £150.

9. Atonement (kaffarah)

Kaffarah (meaning ‘penance’) is the compensation you should pay if you deliberately miss or break a fast in the month of Ramadan without a valid reason.

To atone for the missed or intentionally broken fast, a person must fast continuously for 60 days.

If they are unable to do that, then they have to feed 60 poor people at a rate of £5 per person (the cost of an average meal in the UK). This amounts to £300 in kaffarah for each missed/intentionally broken fast, according to Islamic Relief.

11. Forgetting to fast or being forced to

The fasting is still valid if it’s unintentionally broken when someone eats or drinks in a moment of forgetfulness, or if they are coerced into doing so.

12. Vomiting

The fast is broken if you make yourself vomit deliberately, but not if it’s done suddenly or involuntarily. Do not swallow the vomit or that will definitely break the fast.

13. Sex

If you have sex during the fast, then you have broken the fast and must perform kaffarah (see no 9 above). Any intimate contact must be done before or after the hours of fasting.

Sexual activity means intercourse or ejaculation of any kind and so it includes by yourself or with another – meaning masturbation is not permitted during fasting hours. The fast is not invalidated by unintended or involuntary ejaculation such as during sleep.

There are more details here on kissing, touching, sex and marriage during Ramadan.

14. Children

Pre-pubescent children are not required to fast but some of them do it for some days, or parts of days, to train themselves in readiness for Ramadan as an adult.

15. Brushing teeth

You can brush your teeth and rinse your mouth but it’s not permitted to swallow any water, or you would invalidate the fast.

16. Water

It’s also fine to swim, bathe or shower – again, as long as you don’t swallow any water.

17. Injections

If you need injections for medical reasons, it’s perfectly acceptable to continue these and the fast will not be broken. There were worries during the Covid vaccine rollout about getting a jab during Ramadan but this is perfectly acceptable.

18. Swallowing

Accidentally swallowing food or dust (such as airborne particles of sieved flour) or your own saliva will NOT invalidate the fast. You can also deliberately taste food, for instance if checking the seasoning when preparing a meal for the iftar later, as long as you don’t swallow the food.

19. Purity

You must not be in a state of janaba. This is an Islamic term meaning impurity after sex, ejaculation or the completion of the menstrual cycle. A person in this state must wash so that they can become ritually pure and take part in Ramadan fasting and prayers the following day.

The full-body cleansing ritual they must undertake is known as ghusl.

20. Eyes.

Eyeliner and eye drops are allowed, and drops MUST be continued if someone is suffering glaucoma. The advice is to use drops before and after the fasting and use a technique to stop the fluid draining down into the throat.