Ramadan is a religious holiday that lasts a whole month and one in which participants practice personal introspection, prayer, and fasting. It is observed by Muslims all over the world on the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. Since it is based on a lunar calendar that falls short of the Gregorian calendar by eleven days, this holiday doesn’t start on the same day each year. Ramadan means “scorching” in Arabic.
History of Ramadan
This religious holiday was established in the 7th century when the Quran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. His revelation began in 610 CE in Mecca at Hira Cave on Mount Nur. This day has been known as Laylat al-Qadr – which means Night of Decree or Night of Power in English. As revealed by the hadith, all of the subsequent Holy Scriptures were written down this month by the Prophet Muhammad. Observance of Ramadan is mandatory as stated by the Quran, Surah 2, Ayah 185.
Ramadan Traditions & Practices
During this religious month, Muslims are expected to fast every day from dawn to dusk. During this time, they are supposed to refrain from eating or drinking, smoking, or sexual activity. They are also supposed to avoid having impure thoughts or using unclean words. They also must avoid behavior that may be considered immoral.
Fasting during Ramadan has a dual purpose. It is not only seen as a way for Muslims to cleanse their souls of impure elements but is also done to empathize with those in the world who may be poor and hungry. It is expected that all Muslims fast during those times – with the exception of those who haven’t reached puberty or are too ill to do so.
As such, children, pregnant women, the sick and elderly, and travelers are not expected to fast. However, these groups are supposed to make up for any missed fast days, by fasting at some point in the future and if that isn’t possible, then by giving food to the poor.
During Ramadan, the pre-dawn meal is known as Suhoor, and the post-dawn meal is known as Iftar. Tradition dictates that the fast each day be broken by eating a single date, after which an elaborate feast is usually served. The foods that may be served during this time are as varied as the cultures this holiday is practiced in and often include foods that are indigenous to the region.
However, this holiday isn’t just about abstention. It is also a time to practice self-reflection. During this time, many Muslims go about their normal days but do so in a more reflective manner, saying special prayers and attending mosques at a more frequent pace. Some Muslims also use this time to read the Quran in its entirety.
During this religious month, it is important that participants are charitable to their fellow citizens. In fact, Zakāt – or the paying of alms to benefit the poor and less fortunate is one of the Five Pillars of Islam but is especially important during Ramadan. Muslims are expected to give more and more frequently to the poor and needy.
Ramadan is usually concluded with a large celebration. This celebration, known as the Feast of Fast Breaking or Id al-Fitr, starts the day following the end of Ramadan and usually lasts for 3 days. During these 3 days, Muslims say special prayers, gifts are exchanged and meals are shared with friends and family. In the United States, the U.S. President has hosted an Id al-Fitr dinner since 1996.