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Ramadan

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The Islamic World: Past and Present What is This? Accessible coverage of Islam from the seventh century to the twenty-first century

    Ramadan

    During Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, all adult Muslims who are physically able are required to fast from sunrise to sunset. Abstaining from food, drink, and sexual activity during this period gives Muslims a greater awareness of God's presence and helps them to recognize his blessings in their lives. Observing the fast of Ramadan is also one of the five Pillars of Islam. Ramadan is particularly sacred to Muslims because God sent the first revelation of the Qur'an to Muhammad during that month.

    The traditional Islamic (or Hijrah) calendar coincides with the phases of the moon. The month of Ramadan begins with the announcement of the first sighting of the crescent moon and concludes with the next sighting, which is usually 29 or 30 days later. If poor weather conditions conceal the moon, Ramadan ends with the completion of 30 consecutive fasts.

    Fasting during Ramadan begins at sunrise, which is defined as the moment the human eye can distinguish between a black thread and a white thread, and ends at sunset. Because Muslims follow a lunar calendar, Ramadan occurs during different seasons from year to year. The period of fasting is relatively short in the winter, when daylight hours are few. By contrast, when Ramadan takes place during the summer, the fast may last as long as 20 hours.

    To avoid breaking the fast, Muslims usually rise before dawn to eat a meal that must last them throughout the day. Following the example of the Prophet Muhammad, many Muslims break the fast at sunset by eating dates and drinking a glass of water. Afterward, families and friends often share a small meal, and many go to the mosque for the evening prayer. Over the course of the month, some Muslims recite the entire Qur'an, which is arranged in 30 equal sections for this purpose.

    Certain groups of people are exempt from fasting during Ramadan. Among them are children, those whose health would be harmed by fasting (such as elderly or ill people), those who are traveling, and women who are nursing. Adults who are exempt from fasting must either make up the days they have missed at a later time or perform other obligations instead. For example, those who are too old or ill to fast must feed at least one poor person for every day of the fasting period that they miss during Ramadan.

    The Prophet Muhammad stressed that Ramadan is not simply a time to refrain from physical pleasures. It is also a time when Muslims should redouble their efforts to avoid immoral behavior, such as lying and fighting. Muhammad reportedly said, “If someone does not stop telling lies and promoting falsehoods during the fast, then know, Allah does not want a person simply to stop eating and drinking.”

    Fasting is also intended to build a greater sense of community by uniting all faithful Muslims through shared traditions and practices. Modern Muslim observers note other advantages to fasting during Ramadan. These include improved physical and mental health, a greater appreciation of the suffering of others, training in patience and discipline, and purification of the soul. See also Calendar, Islamic; Fasting; Pillars of Islam.

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