Ramadan 2021: 15 Arabic words and phrases you'll hear throughout the holy month

From iftar and suhoor to imsak and tarawih, Ramadan has its own set of terms

Hundreds of millions of Muslims worldwide observe the month of Ramadan each year.

Throughout the holy month, Muslims abstain from food and drink from sunrise to sunset. Fasting during Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam, along with prayer, giving money to charity (zakat), Hajj, and saying the Shahada, which is a profession of faith.

Ramadan is the ninth and holiest month in the Islamic calendar and is a way to get closer to Allah, as well as recognising the needs of the underprivileged.

The first day of Ramadan will begin once a new crescent moon is sighted, which could be on April 12 or April 13 this year.

Muslims fast for 29 or 30 days, depending on when the next crescent moon is seen.

For those who are unfamiliar with Ramadan, here are several words you will likely hear often throughout the month.

1. Ramadan Kareem or Ramadan Mubarak

Ramadan Kareem translates from Arabic to "generous Ramadan". It is the most common greeting used in the UAE.

In Islam, the holy month is believed to bring many rewards, so Muslims wish a generous Ramadan to each other.

Ramadan Mubarak is another common greeting that means "happy Ramadan" or "blessed Ramadan".

You can use this or Ramadan Kareem as a way of greeting one another throughout the holy month.

Ramadan decorations at Mall of the Emirates in Dubai. Pawan Singh / The National

2. Sawm or siyam

These variations of the same word translate from Arabic to "fast".

While fasting, Muslims do not eat, drink or smoke. A greater focus is placed on worshipping, being thankful, getting closer to Allah and understanding the needs of the underprivileged.

You might also hear "ana sayim / sayma", which means "I am fasting".

3. Iftar

Muslims gather in iftar tents to break their fast on the first day of Ramadan in Dubai. Getty Images

This is the meal that you open your fast with. Because of Covid-19, the UAE authorities have urged people to share iftar and suhoor only with those in their household and not extended relatives.

Dubai’s Islamic authority cancelled all permits for Ramadan tents this year. Usually, majlis or tents are set up to host large gatherings for iftar.

4. Madfa

This is the iftar cannon that sounds when the sun sets and signifies the end of the fast. Uqlat Al Madfa, or the firing of the cannon, means Muslims can break their fast and have iftar.

5. Suhoor

Suhoor is the meal eaten before the fast begins, just before dawn. Health experts recommend lots of water and healthy food options to keep the body hydrated throughout the day.

6. Imsak

This Arabic word means beginning the daily fast. It is a period of time, about 10 minutes, before the dawn prayer begins and when people, who have eaten suhoor, must stop eating.

7. Mosaharaty

Drummer Khamees Abu Tubaila and his entourage walk the alleyways of Abu Dhabi to wake people and prepare them for the day’s fasting. Courtesy Alettihad

A mosaharaty is a person that roams the streets waking Muslims just before dawn to have suhoor. The traditional job is fast disappearing from modern life but can still be found in some areas of Egypt and Indonesia. Some use drums while others recite prayers to wake the sleepers.

8. Qada

Qada means to make up for an Islamic duty that was missed. During Ramadan, this is typically referred to someone doing something to make up for missing a fast.

Muslims are required to fast during Ramadan unless they are unwell, travelling or menstruating. Other reasons a Muslim might need to make up for missing a fast include accidentally eating or drinking, excessive bleeding or throwing up.

9. Kaffara

When a Muslim misses a fast for other reasons, they may need to carry out a penalty, which is called kaffara. This requires the individual to fast an additional 60 days. If they are unable to, they must instead feed 60 underprivileged people, with one average meal served to each.

10. Salah

Salah is prayer. Muslims are obliged to pray five times a day – fajr is the dawn prayer, dhuhr is in the afternoon, asr is in late afternoon, maghrib is the sunset prayer and isha is also a late evening prayer. During Ramadan, Muslims are encouraged to also pray tarawih – though this is not obligatory.

11. Tarawih

Muslim men attend Tarawih prayers at Al Azhar mosque in Cairo. Amr Abdallah Dalsh / Reuters

Tarawih prayers take place after isha. These are extended prayers, typically performed in congregation at a mosque. During each nightly tarawih, an imam will recite one of the 30 sections of the Quran. This ensures the holy book is completed by the end of Ramadan. While regular prayers can take between five to 10 minutes, tarawih can take up to an hour.

12. Laylat Al Qadr

The final 10 days of Ramadan are considered the most holy because it is believed to have been the period in which the first verses of the Quran were revealed to Prophet Mohammed by the angel Jibril (Gabriel). Laylat Al Qadr, or the night of destiny, is believed to be one of the odd numbered nights during the final 10 days. During this period, Muslims increase their piety and it is said that acts of goodness and night prayers carried out on Laylat Al Qadr are better than those carried out over 83 years.

13. Itikaf

This means to isolate and dedicate one’s time to something. During the final 10 days of Ramadan, Muslims spend their days and nights at the mosque.

14. Eid Al Fitr

Muslims perform the Eid prayer at Haji Yaqub Mosque in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. Nozim Kalandarov / Tass

Eid Al Fitr is the religious holiday that celebrates the end of Ramadan. Iftar is a derivative of fitr, which means to eat or break the fast so Eid Al Fitr is the "festival of breaking the fast".

Fasting is not permitted during Eid Al Fitr. Muslims offer Eid prayers on this occasion.

15. Zakat and Zakat Al Fitr

Zakat is one of the five pillars of Islam. It means to donate a certain percentage of one’s wealth to charitable causes.

Muslims around the world make donations during the Ramadan month.

Zakat Al Fitr is paid before the Eid Al Fitr prayer at the end of Ramadan.

15 Ramadan phrases to learn:

  1. Ramadan Kareem or Ramadan Mubarak
  2. Sawm or siyam
  3. Iftar
  4. Madfa
  5. Suhoor
  6. Imsak
  7. Mosaharaty
  8. Qada
  9. Kaffara
  10. Salah
  11. Tarawih
  12. Laylat Al Qadr
  13. Itikaf
  14. Eid Al Fitr
  15. Zakat and Zakat Al Fitr

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