The month of Ramadan for the year of 2013 began on the evening of Monday, July 8 and ends on the evening of Wednesday, August 7.
The ninth month of the Islamic calendar, Ramadan is an entire month – 29-30 days – of fasting by Muslims all over the world. Fasting during the month of Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam, and Muslims usually also pray and read the Quran more during the month. In fact, reading the entire Quran is encouraged, so a number of Muslims recite the entire book during this month.
It’s not quite as bad as it seems – they only fast from dawn until sunset. Before sunset and after dawn, they can eat and drink. The meal before dawn is called suhoor, and is followed by the first prayer of the day. The meal at sunset is called iftar. These meals can be anything, but in the evening, dates are typically eaten because Muhammad, according to tradition, broke his fast with three dates. This is followed with prayer and then the main meal, which is usually a buffet-style social gathering. There are some traditional foods and desserts that are only served during Ramadan.
The word Ramadan comes from an Arabic root that means “scorching heat or dryness.” The month is thought to be the time when Muhammad was first given the revelations of the Quran. As the Quran states in Chapter 2, Revelation 185:
“The month of Ramadan is that in which was revealed the Quran; a guidance for mankind, and clear proofs of the guidance, and the criterion (of right and wrong). And whosoever of you is present, let him fast the month, and whosoever of you is sick or on a journey, a number of other days. Allah desires for you ease; He desires not hardship for you; and that you should complete the period, and that you should magnify Allah for having guided you, and that perhaps you may be thankful.”
Another practice during Ramadan is increased giving to the poor. Charity is a regular practice of Islam; Zakat, or “the poor-rate”, is one of the pillars of the faith and is the mandatory amount of giving, a fixed amount of an individual’s savings. Sadaqah is giving that is more than what is required; during Ramadan, good deeds are believed to be rewarded more than any other time during the year, and so Muslims typically give more of their Zakat, as well as Sadaqah, so they can be rewarded more at the Last Judgement. They also help the poor in breaking their fast, and there are large areas that are devoted to feeding the poor during Ramadan.
The Night of Power, or Laylat al-Qadr, also known as the night of decree, is the holiest night of the year for Muslims. Muslims believe that this is the night when Muhammad received the first revelation of the Quran. Some believe that this revelation happened in two phases. One of these was to the angel Gabriel (or Jibril in Arabic) in the lowest heaven, and then the revelation to Muhammad by Gabriel, throughout 23 years, verse by verse. It is believed that the revelation began in the year 610 CE in Mecca, at the Hira Cave in Mount Nur. It is on this night that Muslims worship as much as possible, and believe that God decides the destiny of all people.
From the Quran:
“We have indeed revealed this (Message) in the Night of Power:
And what will explain to thee what the night of power is?
The Night of Power is better than a thousand months.
Therein come down the angels and the Spirit by Allah’s permission, on every errand:
Peace!…This until the rise of dawn!” —Sura 97 (Al-Qadr), āyāt 1-5
The celebration of Ramadan can be recognized in many ways. One of these is the hanging of lanterns along public streets. Stars and crescents are also displayed. Also, eating in public or otherwise flaunting one’s failure to fast during Ramadan is punishable in many Muslim countries; people have been punished with heavy fines and four years in prison for this crime.
Ramadan is also a time for Muslims to re-evaluate their lives. They are to make all the wrongs of the past year right, strengthen their relationships with family and friends, get rid of bad habits, and to purify their lives in general. During the month of Ramadan they strive to keep their thoughts and actions pure in an effort to focus on worship of God.
From the Quran:
“Believers! Fasting is enjoined upon you, as it was enjoined upon those before you, that you become God fearing. Quran 2:183 – Fasting is for a fixed number of days, and if one of you be sick, or if one of you be on a journey, you will fast the same number of other days later on. For those who are capable of fasting (but still do not fast) there is a redemption: feeding a needy man for each day missed. Whoever, voluntarily, does more good than is required, will find it is better for him; and that you should fast is better for you, if you only know. 2:184 – During the month of Ramadan the Qur’an was sent down as a guidance to the people with clear signs of the true guidance, and as the Criterion (between right and wrong). So those of you who live to see that month should fast it, and whoever is sick or on a journey should fast the same number of other days instead. Allah wants ease and not hardship for you so that you may complete the number of days required, magnify Allah for what He has guided you to, and give thanks to Him. 2:185”
Some Muslims stay in the mosque for the last ten days of Ramadan as a retreat. They fast, pray, and study the Quran all day and night.