Ramadan is a holy month for Muslims all over the world intended to cultivate self-control and draw disciples closer to God. Being the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, Ramadan begins at sunset on Wednesday, March 22 and ends on Friday, April 21 this year.
According to the Islamic Networks Group, “Ramadan is a month of intense spiritual rejuvenation with a heightened focus on devotion.”
This focus on devotion is demonstrated through daily fasting, increased time studying the Qur’an and performing special prayers.
Sawm, or fasting, is one of the five pillars of Islam. All Muslims that have reached puberty and are physically healthy enough are obligated to fast during the 30 days of Ramadan. During this period, they are expected to abstain from food, water and sexual relations during sunlit hours in an effort to practice self-control over human needs and demonstrate devotion to God.
A typical day during Ramadan begins with a meal before dawn called Sahūr. Sahūr is a breakfast-type meal meant to help sustain those fasting through the day until sunset. Some individuals and families break their fast at sunset by drinking water and eating dates or another light meal.
Iftar — which translates to “breaking the fast” — is the evening meal that begins after sunset. Iftar is typically spent with family or friends and eaten with a group. Some mosques host community dinners during Ramadan where people can gather together to break their daily fast.
Fasting is also a means of remembering the poor and those who are not fortunate enough to eat every day. During Ramadan, this emphasis on the less fortunate encourages Muslims to be especially generous and compassionate by participating in food drives or fundraisers sponsored by mosques.
Salah, or prayer, is another of the five pillars of Islam. Muslims are obligated to pray five times a day regularly, but during Ramadan, they are encouraged to gather for an additional daily prayer called tarawih, which is typically a communal prayer performed in a mosque but can also be done individually after iftar.
Laylat al-Qadr, or Night of Power, is observed on the twenty-seventh night of Ramadan, which falls on April 17. This is considered to be the holiest night of Ramadan because it is believed to be the anniversary of the night when the Qur’an was first revealed. It is a night of contemplation and supplication to God and mosques are typically kept open all night for prayer and Qur’anic recitation.
The end of Ramadan marks the beginning of another major Muslim holiday, Eid al-Fitr, or “Festival of the Breaking of the Fast,” beginning the evening of April 21. The morning of Eid al-Fitr begins with a prayer and sermon and the rest of the day is celebrated with food, games and gifts for the children. It summarizes the social spirit of Ramadan by spending the holiday with family and reuniting with old acquaintances.