What is Ramadan
Boontoom Sae-Kor/Shutterstock

What Is Ramadan?

Once a year, Muslims around the world fast for 30 days
What is Ramadan
Boontoom Sae-Kor/Shutterstock

In the Islamic calendar, a lunar calendar that has approximately 354 days divided into 12 months, the month of Ramadan is one of the holiest of the year. Lasting 29 to 30 days, Ramadan is known as a month during which Muslims around the world fast from before dawn until sunset, but that’s not all there is to it.

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A month-long celebration, Ramadan is a time of reflection and self-betterment for Muslims. From pre-dawn until sunset, Muslims around the world abstain from food, drink and sex for 11 to 16 hours, depending on the time of year and their location. This is also a time for Muslims to abstain from negative behaviors such as lying and gossiping. 

Fasting is considered an obligation for all Muslims who have reached puberty, although there are exceptions. People who are sick or traveling are exempt from fasting, as are those who are pregnant, nursing, menstruating, too weak, too sick or too old. Those who can make up the fast later are expected to do so, otherwise, feeding a person in need for every missed fast is an accepted alternative.

Ramadan is also typically a very social time for Muslims, as friends and family often come together to eat suhoor (the pre-dawn breakfast), have iftar (the meal during which they break their fast) and congregate for prayers at the mosque. 

Islam puts great emphasis on the importance of community, and Ramadan is a time during which this is especially celebrated. Fasts are traditionally first broken with dates and water, and iftar is typically served with special drinks, foods and desserts, particularly traditional teas and iconic street foods such as beguni, asinan and samosas.

In addition to practicing self-discipline and self-improvement, Ramadan is a time for Muslims to focus on spiritual improvement and increased consciousness of God. Believed to be the month during which the Quran was first revealed, many Muslims spend extra time during Ramadan reading their holy book or attending special nighttime prayers called Taraweeh, during which at least one-thirtieth of the Quran is recited so as to complete the entire book by the end of the month. 

In 2021, Ramadan is expected to start on or about May 12. Tradition holds that the start and end of Ramadan is determined by the sighting of the first new moon crescent in the sky. While some Muslims follow a predetermined and fixed date based on astronomical calculations, many prefer to follow the tradition of an actual moon sighting before commencing their celebration of the holy month.

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The end of Ramadan is celebrated with a major three-day holiday called Eid al-Fitr, or “Festival of the Breaking of the Fast,” which is expected to be held on or about May 12. People traditionally wear new clothes and gather for a special prayer and sermon in the morning, followed by community celebrations or gatherings at the homes of friends and family. Children also traditionally receive money or gifts from their elders, and after a month’s worth of fasts, lots of food is served and enjoyed by Muslims.