What is Ramadan and what does this month mean to Muslims?

World Today

INDONESIA-RELIGION-ISLAM-RAMADANAn Indonesian girl reads a copy of the Qur-an on the first day of the holy month of Ramadan at a mosque in Tangerang, Indonesia on June 6, 2016. AFP PHOTO / ADEK BERRY

Ramadan, the ninth month of the Hijra (Islamic) Calendar, is the most sacred month of the year for Muslims. It is believed that it is during this month that Allah (God) revealed the first verses of the Qur’an to the Prophet Mohammed.

During this month long worship, as observers fast from sunrise to sunset, they are required to detach themselves from worldly pleasures and to think of the less fortunate. It is especially a time for deep spiritual reflection and increased devotion. Many spend their free time during Ramadan attending prayers at mosques, reciting the Qur’an, or doing charitable work. Fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam, along with the shahada (Declaration of Faith), daily prayer, Zakat (charity), and pilgrimage for Muslims who are financially and physically able.

What does Ramadan mean to Muslims?

Things you should know about Ramadan as millions of Muslims worldwide begin to fast. Ramadan, the ninth month of the Hijra (Islamic) Calendar, is the most sacred month of the year for Muslims.


How do Muslims fast?

Muslims abstain from eating, drinking, smoking and sexual activity from sunrise to sunset. Although gossiping is often discouraged year-round, Muslim scholars encourage observants to be especially cautious of such behavior during the holy month.

Before the fast starts, Muslims are encouraged to wake up for “suhoor,” the last meal eaten before sunrise, to help sustain their energy throughout the day.


Do all Muslims fast?

Healthy Muslims are required to fast every day from dawn to dusk. However, the elderly, the sick, pregnant women and children are exempt. There are also exceptions for menstruating women, but they are required to make up the days they missed.


How do Muslims break their fast?

Traditionally, Muslims break their fast with a very light meal, the way the Prophet Muhammad did with a sip of water and some dates. Following sunset prayers, families gather for a large dinner known as “Iftar.” It is usually shared with friends and family.


How many hours do Muslims fast for?

The number of hours Muslims fast for depends on the country they are in. This year Ramadan will be particularly challenging in some northern European countries where Muslims have to fast between 19-20 hours. Meanwhile, in some places above the Arctic circle, the sun never sets. Muslims in those regions have the choice to follow the daylight hours of Mecca in Saudi Arabia, or nearby Muslim countries.


Why do the dates of this month change annually?

Muslims determine the beginning of their holy month by following a lunar calendar, which is based on the different moon phases. It’s 11 days shorter than the Gregorian calendar, which explains why every Ramadan starts 11 days earlier every year. Muslims mark the beginning of Ramadan by sighting the crescent, which is the new moon that begins its new cycle around the earth.


How do Muslims mark the end of their holy month?

The last days of Ramadan are especially important since Laylat al-Qadr, or “the Night of Destiny,” falls during the last 10 nights of the holy month. Muslims believe that it is on that night that God sent Angel Gabriel to reveal the first verses of the Qur’an to the Prophet Mohammed.

The end of Ramadan is marked with a three-day celebration called “Eid al-Fitr.” Like Christmas, Muslims exchange gifts and enjoy a feast together during Eid.