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As Ramadan Begins, Muslims Say It's Being Met With A 'Positive Curiosity'

For Muslims around the world, Ramadan is the most sacred month of the year. Sirine Demachkie believes it's now being met with "positive curiosity".

Demachkie has been fasting during Ramadan since she was about nine years old and remembers her mother's encouraging words at school: "See how you go."

Over the years, the now mother and Arabic-English presenter and writer has been met with ill-informed questions from the non-Muslim community. But recently, in her experience, they've all but disappeared.

"I'd used to get 'you must be starving' a lot. Now, those aren't the questions," she told 10 daily.

It’s feeling like it’s much more of a normal conversation among Muslims and non-Muslims which is really nice to see.

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar when the Quran -- the holy book of Islam -- was revealed to the prophet Muhammad.

It's a time of fasting, prayer and spiritual introspection that, according to tradition, begins after the sighting of a new moon and lasts for 29 or 30 days.

Image: Sirine Demachkie (centre), with her daughter Elyssa and husband Mark. Photo: Supplied

Muslims follow a lunar calendar and this moon-sighting methodology can lead to different countries declaring the start of Ramadan at different times.

This year, the Australian National Imams Council, with Islamic leaders across the country, declared Ramadan began on May 6, though not all Imams agree on the methodology used to determine the dates.

Afterwards, families will traditionally come together for a celebratory meal, known as Eid.

"Counting up to starting Ramadan is hard," Demachkie said.

"Now, we have a calendar where my daughter is counting down to the end ... which is the fun part!"

Why do Muslims fast during Ramadan?

During Ramadan, healthy and observant Muslims will fast from dawn to dusk -- an exercise in self-restraint and a way of devoting themselves to their faith, and to others who are less fortunate.

For Demachkie, Ramadan is about much more than food.

"That might be the first thing that comes to mind but that's actually quite secondary to everything else," she said.

Fasting translates to "refrain" and includes food and drink along with sex, cigarettes, foul speech or ignorant behaviour. It's one of the Five Pillars of Islam -- alongside faith, prayer, charity and pilgrimage -- which guide how Muslim people live their lives.

Ramadan is also considered a time of deep worship. PHOTO: Getty

Ramadan is widely considered a time of spiritual growth, through which Muslims intensely worship and recite the Quran. Demachkie will continue praying five times a day, along with additional evening prayers, known as 'tarraweeh'.

"For me, it's a time of reflection for those who are less fortunate and don't have the same access to food that we have here in Australia," she said.

"But it's also about checking in with yourself, and being a bit more humble in times where you think you're getting a bit cranky ... especially if you're hangry during fasting, that can be challenging!"

It's something we should be doing regardless, but it comes to the forefront this month.

Ramadan is widely considered a requirement for Muslims, although some people do not take part. Pregnant women and those menstruating, children and the elderly, along with those who are ill or travelling, are exempt.

For now, Demachkie's five-year-old daughter enjoys decorating the house with Ramadan lights.

"In her mind, she has given fasting a go ... from the time she wakes up until breakfast," she laughed.

As she enters Ramadan this year, Demachkie is grateful for conversations she is having with Muslims and non-Muslims about the deeply spiritual ritual.

"I find people are positively curious," she said.

"As an Australian Muslim living in Australia, where we celebrate different faiths and languages, the fact that Ramadan comes up as a topic of conversation is great to see."

The Australian National Imams Council encouraged the Muslim community to use the Month of Ramadan as one of advocacy to "clear misconceptions of Islam to the wider Australian society".

Featured image: Supplied

Contact the author ebrancatisano@networkten.com.au