Ramadan is the holy month of fasting and prayers practiced by millions of Muslims around the world. During this holy month, customs and practices of discipline, self-reflection, and spirituality are celebrated in community, ending with a grand festive celebration called Eid ‘Al’ Fitr.
Ramadan is the ninth month of the 12-month Islamic lunar calendar observed at first sighting of the new crescent moon over Mecca. This year Ramadan begins at sunset March 22, ending April 21 with Eid festivities. This holy month commemorates the sacred night called ‘Laylat al-Qadr’ or ‘Night of Power,’ considered by Muslims to be the holiest night of the year, when the first verses of the Holy Quran were revealed to Prophet Muhammad while meditating in a cave called Hira, outside Mecca. It is believed to have taken place on one of the final 10 nights during the month of Ramadan circa 610 AD.
There are five pillars of Islam and the fulfilment of fasting during the holy month of Ramadan is one of them. While fasting in some religions can be for mourning, or penance, Ramadan is celebrated and offered as a thanksgiving to Allah (God most high), where each person works on developing their spirituality through discipline, practicing the other four pillars of Islam; faith, prayer, charity, and pilgrimage to Mecca. Charity is considered most important especially during Ramadan where Muslims are encouraged to give to the poor and needy in the form of ‘Zakat,’ which is mandatory, or ‘Sadaqa,’ which is voluntary. Muslims can perform extra nightly prayers call ‘Tarawih’ during this holy month.
Fasting begins from sunrise to sunset, with an early morning meal called ‘suhoor,’ ending at sunset, with a meal called ‘iftar.’ This usually includes dates and water which Prophet Muhammad used to break his fasts. Ginger with salt or ginger tea can be used to aid digestion. At night large and elaborate meals are shared in mosques or with family and friends at home. Sweets and fruits are often served with these meals.
While there are some health benefits to fasting as in weight loss or detoxing, certain groups are exempted; pregnant women, persons experiencing mental or physical illness, very young children and the very old. While young children are exempted from fasting, they can start at age seven and are obligated to at puberty. Those who are unable to fast substitute by feeding the poor or hungry. Should a person break a fast unintentionally there is no punishment; however make up days for missed fasts can be done after Eid, called ‘Quada.’
Lanterns, called Fanoos, are made specifically for this holy month to decorate homes and have become typical symbols of light, popular in Egypt eventually spreading to other countries. While many Muslims around the world may observe Ramadan differently, at the end of Ramadan everyone celebrates the festival of ‘Eid Al-Fitr’ or Eid, at first sight of the new crescent moon marking the first day of Shawwal. In preparation homes are cleaned and items laundered. Muslims worldwide wake up before dawn, wash and dress in their best or new clothes for this festive day and go to their local mosques to congregate in special prayer called ‘Salatul Eid.’ They also offer alms to the poor and hungry before going home to celebrate with their families, relatives, and friends.
It is traditional for Muslims to wish each other a blessed or happy Eid, saying ‘Eid Mubarak.’ Non-Muslims can wish Muslims a happy Ramadan saying ‘Ramadan Mubarak’ meaning have a ‘blessed Ramadan.’