Ramadan (Arabic: رمضان Ramaḍān, Arabic pronunciation:[rɑmɑdˤɑːn]) (also Ramazan, Ramzan, Ramadhan, Ramdan, Ramadaan) is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. It is the Islamic month of fasting, in which participating Muslims refrain from eating, drinking and sexual activities from dawn until sunset.
Fasting is intended to teach Muslims about patience, humility and spirituality and is a time for Muslims to fast for the sake of God (Arabic: الله, trans: Allah) and to offer more prayer than usual. During Ramadan, Muslims ask forgiveness for past sins, pray for guidance and help in refraining from everyday evils, and try to purify themselves through self-restraint and good deeds. As compared to the solar calendar, the dates of Ramadan vary, moving backwards about ten days each year depending on the moon. Ramadan was the month in which the first verses of the Qur’an were revealed to the Islamic Prophet Muhammad.
The name “Ramadan” had been the name of the ninth month in Arabian culture long before the arrival of Islam; the word itself derived from an Arabic root rmḍ, as in words like “ramiḍa” or “ar-ramaḍ” denoting intense heat, scorched ground and shortness of rations. In the Qu’ran, God proclaims that “fasting has been written down (as obligatory) upon you, as it was upon those before you”. According to the earliest hadith, this refers to the Jewish practice of fasting on Yom Kippur.
Sometimes referred to as “the night of decree or measures”, Laylat al-Qadr is considered the most holy night of the year, as it is the night in which the Qur’an was revealed to Prophet Muhammad (SAW). Muslims believe it to have occurred on an odd-numbered night during the last 10 days of Ramadan, either the night of the 21st, 23rd, 25th, 27th or 29th (in Sunni thought) or the 19th, 21st or 23rd (in Shi’a thought). Ramadan ends with Eid ul-Fitr on the 1 of Shawwal, with much celebration and feasting. During the month following Ramadan, called Shawwal, Muslims are encouraged to fast for a further six days, known as as-Sitta al-Bīḍ, or “the white six.” When fasting is over, Muslims go to mosques in formal clothes to pray the first Eid prayer. They give out presents to the young ones and greet their friends and families. They then thank God for what He has given them.
The most prominent event of this month is fasting. Every day during the month of Ramadan, Muslims around the world get up before dawn to eat Sahur or Sehri or Sahari (meaning “something we eat at Sahar”), then they perform the fajr (or Sobh) prayer. They have to stop eating and drinking before the call for prayer starts until the fourth prayer of the day, Maghrib. Muslims break their fast at Maghrib (at sunset) prayer time with a meal called Iftar. Muslims may continue to eat and drink after the sun has set until the next morning’s fajr prayer call. Then the process starts again.
Ramadan is a time of reflecting , believing and worshiping God. Muslims are expected to put more effort into following the teachings of Islam and to avoid obscene and irreligious sights and sounds. Sexual activities during fasting hours are also forbidden. Purity of both thoughts and actions is important. The fast is intended to be an exacting act of deep personal worship in which Muslims seek a raised awareness of closeness to God.
The act of fasting is said to redirect the heart away from worldly activities, its purpose being to cleanse the inner soul and free it from harm. It also allows Muslims to practice self-discipline, self-control, sacrifice, and empathy for those who are less fortunate; thus encouraging actions of generosity and charity (Zakat).
Muslims should start observing the fasting ritual upon reaching the age of puberty, so long as they are healthy, sane and have no disabilities or illnesses. The elderly, the chronically ill, and the mentally ill are exempt from fasting, although the first two groups must endeavor to feed the poor in place of their missed fasting. People who are travelling long distances do not have to fast. Also exempt are pregnant women, women during the period of their menstruation, and women nursing their newborns. A difference of opinion exists among Islamic scholars as to whether this last group must make up the days they miss at a later date, or feed poor people as a recompense for days missed. While fasting is not considered compulsory in childhood, many children endeavour to complete as many fasts as possible as practice for later life. Lastly, those traveling (musaafir) are exempt, but must make up the days they miss. More specifically, Twelver Shi‘ah define those who travel more than 40 mi (64 km) in a day as exempt.
The elderly or those who suffer from a disability or disease and have no prospect of getting better in the future can pay the cost of Iftar for a person who cannot afford it, or else they can host such a person in their house and have him eat with them after sunset as a way of repaying for the days they could not fast.
A person who is observing Ramadan might break the fast accidentally, due to having forgotten it. In such an instance, one might spit out the food being eaten or cease the forbidden activity, immediately upon remembering the fast. This can usually happen in the early days of Ramadan because that person might have not yet been acclimated into fasting from dawn till dusk.
When Ramadan came to overshadow Ashura in importance, it took on some characteristics of the latter. According to a well-known hadith, the person who observes Ramadan properly will have all their past sins forgiven. According to another, “When Ramadan arrives, Heaven’s gates are opened, Hell’s gates are closed, Satan is chained up and jinns are also locked up” and thrown into the oceans.
There are exceptions in certain Muslim communities that deny practising fasting in Ramadan such as Alevi people in Turkey.