Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic Lunar calendar and the holiest of the four holy months. It begins with the sighting of the new moon after which all Muslim men and women of good physical health are obliged to abstain from all food and drink. It is also forbidden to chew gum and smoke tobacco. Any kind of sexual contact is also prohibited between husband and wife between dawn and sunset.
But all those abstinences are merely the physical component of that fast. On a more spiritual level, one should abstain from gossiping, lying, slandering and all other traits of bad character. Ramadan reminds us of our need and duty to reach the Holy. It is an opportunity to get closer to god and his teachings. A whole community of Men comes together during this holiest of month.
Ordained in the Quran, the fast is an exacting act of deeply personal worship in which Muslims seek a raised level of God-consciousness. The act of fasting redirects the hearts away from worldly activities, towards The Divine.
The month of Ramadan is a time for spiritual reflection, prayer, doing good deeds and spending time with family and friends. The fasting is intended to help teach Muslims self-discipline, self-restraint and generosity.
It also reminds them of the suffering of the poor, who may rarely get to eat well. It is common to have one meal (known as the Suhoor), just before sunrise and another (known as the Iftar), directly after sunset. This meal will commonly consist of dates, following the example of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon Him. Because Ramadan is a time to spend with friends and family, the fast will often be broken by different Muslim families coming together to share in an evening meal.
Ramadan derives from the Arabic root: ramida or ar-ramad, meaning scorching heat or dryness.
Since Muslims are commanded to fast during the month of Ramadan, it is believed that the month’s name may refer to the heat of thirst and hunger, or because fasting burns away one’s pest of last sins. Muslims believe that God began revealing the Qur’an to the Prophet Muhammad during Ramadan (in the year 610 C.E.). The Qur’an commands: “O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that ye may (learn) self-restraint…Ramadan is the (month) in which was sent down the Qur’an, as a guide to mankind, also clear (Signs) for guidance and judgment (between right and wrong). So every one of you who is present (at his home) during that month should spend it in fasting…” (Chapter 2, verses 183 and 185). Fasting during Ramadan did not become an obligation for Muslims until 624 C.E., at which point it became the third of the Five Pillars of Islam. The others are faith (Shahadah); prayer (Salah); charitable giving (Zakah); and the pilgrimage to Makkah (Hajj).
Another aspect of Ramadan is that it is believed that one of the last few odd-numbered nights of the month is the Laylat ul-Qadr, the “Night of Power” or “Night of Destiny.” It is the holiest night of the holiest month; it is believed to be the night on which God first began revealing the Qur’an to the Prophet Muhammad through the angel Jibril (Gabriel). This is a time for especially fervent and devoted prayer, and the rewards and blessings associated with such are manifold. Muslims are told in the Qur’an that praying throughout this one night is better than a thousand months of prayer. No one knows exactly which night it is; it is one of God’s mysteries. Additionally, Muslims are urged to read the entire Qur’an during the month of Ramadan, and its 114 chapters have been divided into 30 equal parts for this purpose.
When the first crescent of the new moon has been officially sighted by a reliable source, the month of Ramadan is declared over, and the month of Shawwal begins. The end of Ramadan is marked by a three-day period known as Eid ul-Fitr, the “Festival of Fast-breaking.” It is a joyous time beginning with a special prayer, and accompanied by celebration, socializing, festive meals and sometimes very modest gift-giving, especially to children.
The end of Ramadan marks as well the time for all Muslims to pay Zakah. Zakah is a tax ordained by God, each Muslim is obligated to give to the poor a percentage of its worldly possession. Zakah is alongside Ramadan one the five pillar of Islam.