What is Ramadan?
Ramadan is the Arabic name for the ninth month in the Islamic calendar.
It is considered one of the holiest Islamic months.
It’s also one of the Five Pillars of Islam. These are five principles which Muslims believe are compulsory acts ordered by God.
Muslims believe that some of the first verses of the Islamic holy book, the Qu’ran, were revealed to the Prophet Muhammad during the month of Ramadan. Extra emphasis is placed on reciting the Qu’ran at this time.
Fasting is considered to be an act of worship, which enables Muslims to feel closer to God and strengthen their spiritual health and self-discipline.
How does this work in practice?
Muslims have an early morning meal before dawn, known as suhoor or sehri.
They break their fast after sunset for the evening meal, called iftar or fitoor.
Ramadan is also a time when Muslims are encouraged to give to charity, strengthen their relationship with God, and show kindness and patience.
During this month, believers also head to the mosque for an additional night prayer called Taraweeh. This is only held during Ramadan.
When is Ramadan?
The Islamic calendar follows the lunar calendar of 12 months. Each month begins with the new crescent moon and lasts either 29 or 30 days.
The month of Ramadan begins with the first sighting of the new moon.
In the past, this was done by the naked eye, but in recent years, telescopes and technology have been used.
Muslim countries are spread across a large geographical area, from Indonesia to Morocco, meaning that some Muslims may see the new moon earlier than others.
“Traditionally, Makkah [Mecca in Saudi Arabia] was the center of sighting the moon,” says Prof Muhammad Abdel Haleem from the Centre of Islamic Studies at London’s SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies).
“Sometimes even in the Middle East, neighboring countries will say they’ve seen the moon on different days,” he says.
Saudi Arabia has now said fasting will begin on 13 April, and many Muslim communities around the world are expected to accept this date.
The lunar calendar is about 10 days shorter than the Western calendar. which means that each year Ramadan starts about 10 days earlier.
Who can fast during Ramadan?
Fasting should only be done by people who are in good health.
Some Muslims are exempt:
- Those who are sick or ill and whose health will be affected by fasting
- Children – although some may begin to practise fasting from a young age
- Pregnant and breastfeeding women
- Menstruating women