Ramadan is a special month of the year for over one billion Muslims throughout the world. It is a time for inner reflection, devotion to God, and self-control. Muslims think of it as a kind of tune-up for their spiritual lives. There are as many meanings of Ramadan as there are Muslims.
Fasting in the month of Ramadan has many special benefits. It is the third ‘pillar’ or religious obligation of Islam. Among these, the most important is that it is a means of learning self-control. Due to the lack of preoccupation with the satisfaction of bodily appetites during the daylight hours of fasting, a measure of ascendancy is given to one’s spiritual nature, which becomes a mean of coming closer to God. Ramadan is also a time of intensive worship, reading of the Quran, giving charity, purifying one’s behaviour, and doing good deeds. For Muslims, Ramadan is not merely a holiday, but an opportunity to gain by giving up, to prosper by going without and to grow stronger by enduring weakness.
As a secondary goal, fasting is a way of experiencing hunger and developing sympathy for the less fortunate, and learning to thankfulness and appreciation for all of God’s bounties. Fasting is also beneficial to the health and provides a break in the cycle of rigid habits or over indulgence.
Fasting in Ramadan is obligatory on those who can do it. Sick people and some travellers in certain conditions are exempted from the fast but must make it up, as they are able.
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. The Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar. While many Muslim sects insist on the physical sighting of the moon, there is no such requirement in the Quran, the Muslim’s holy book. The much anticipated start of the month can now be based on the very accurate astronomical calculations. The end of the month is marked by the celebration of Eid-ul-Fitr, a traditional practice, not a religious one.
The daily period of fasting starts at the breaking of dawn and ends at the setting of the sun. In between – that is, during the day light hours-Muslims totally abstain from food, drink, smoking and sex. The usual practice is to have pre-fast meal (suhoor) before dawn and post-fast meal (iftar) after sun set.
The Islamic lunar calendar, being 11 to 12 day shorter than the Gregorian calendar, migrates throughout the seasons. Thus, if Ramadan begins on January 20 one year, next year it will begin on January 9. In this way, the length of the day, and thus the fasting, varies in length from place to place over the years. Every Muslim, no matter where he or she lives, will see an average Ramadan day of approximately 13.5 hours.
The last ten days of Ramadan are a time of spiritual power as every one tries to come closer to God through devotions and good deeds. The night on which the Quran was revealed to the Prophet, known as the Night of Power ( Lailat ul Qadr), is generally taken to be the 27th night of the month. The Quran states that this night is better than a thousand months. Therefore many Muslims spend the entire night in prayer.
During this month, Muslims try to read as much of the Quran as they can. Some spend part of their day listening to the recitation of the Quran in a mosque. Others spend the last ten days of Ramadan in a mosque devoting the whole ten days for worshipping God.
Since Ramadan is a special time, Muslims in many parts of the world prepare certain favourite foods during this month. Since Ramadan emphasizes community aspects and since every one eats dinner at the same time, Muslims often invite one another to share in the Ramadan evening meal.