Thursday officially marks the first day of Ramadan, the ninth and holiest month in Islam, when more than one billion Muslims will observe fasting from sunrise to sunset for 30 days. Whether you’re a practising Muslim who needs a refresher on the dos and don’ts, or a non-Muslim who wants to learn more, here’s everything you need to know.
What is Ramadan?
It is believed that on the 27th night of Ramadan, known as the “Night of Power,” Prophet Muhammad received revelations from God. Those revelations were collected to create the Quran, Islam’s holy book. Following that night, Muslims observe a 30-day fast once a year, where they practice self-restraint. Ramadan begins and ends with the sighting of the new moon.
Fasting during Ramadan fulfills one of the five pillars of Islam; the others include: professing of faith to God, performing ritual prayers five times daily, paying charity and making the pilgrimage to Mecca.
Which Muslims fast?
Ideally, all of them. But in certain situations, not everyone is able. The sick and mentally ill, pregnant and nursing women, women on their menstrual cycle, children, the elderly and travelers on long journeys are exempt from fasting. For those who can, it is encouraged to make up the days missed when Ramadan ends.
For those who cannot fast, providing charity or giving food to the poor is rewarded.
Why Muslims fast
Fasting brings awareness to the spiritual power of God. During Ramadan, Muslims spend more time than usual reading the Quran and praying at mosques.
Muslims consider fasting to be a sacrifice they make to profess their love for God. To refrain from basic needs like food and water serves as a reminder of what those less fortunate typically experience.
When fasting, Muslims are encouraged to engage in self-reflection, introspection and prayer. Tradition says anyone who successfully completes the fast is wiped clean of all sins.
What does fasting entail?
Before dawn, Muslims prepare suhoor, a small meal to sustain them throughout the day.
Once the sun rises, Muslims refrain from eating, drinking, smoking and sexual activity. When the sun sets, Muslims gather for an evening prayer, then observe iftar, a meal shared with community members.
What happens when it’s over?
After 30 days, fasting ends and Eid Ul-Fitr commences shortly after. Eid Ul-Fitr, which translates to “festival of breaking fast,” is a three-day celebration where Muslims spend the day eating with family and friends. Muslims from several congregations gather at parks and other large venues for an early morning prayer. Children typically receive money and gifts.
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