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Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr

The month of fasting

by Holly Hartman

For more on Islamic history and culture, see the Islam Primer.

Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr

For more than a billion Muslims, Ramadan is a time of prayer, fasting, and charity.

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Ramadan Dates

(beginning at sundown on the evening before the date given)

2013 July 9
2014 June 28
2015 June 18
2016 June 6
2017 May 27

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. Islam uses a lunar calendar—that is, each month begins with the sighting of the new moon. Because the lunar calendar is about 11 days shorter than the solar calendar used elsewhere, Islamic holidays "move" each year. In 2014, Ramadan begins at sundown on June 28th.

For more than a billion Muslims around the world—including some 8 million in North America—Ramadan is a "month of blessing" marked by prayer, fasting, and charity. Ramadan focuses on self-sacrifice and devotion to Allah (God).

Why this Month?

Muslims believe that during the month of Ramadan, Allah revealed the first verses of the Qur'an, the holy book of Islam. Around 610 A.D., a caravan trader named Muhammad took to wandering the desert near Mecca (in today's Saudi Arabia) while thinking about his faith. One night a voice called to him from the night sky. It was the angel Gabriel, who told Muhammad he had been chosen to receive the word of Allah. In the days that followed, Muhammad found himself speaking the verses that would be transcribed as the Qur'an.

At many mosques during Ramadan, about one thirtieth of the Qur'an is recited each night in prayers known as tarawih. In this way, by the end of the month the complete scripture will have been recited.

Fasting

Muslims practice sawm, or fasting, for the entire month of Ramadan. This means that they may eat or drink nothing, including water, while the sun shines. Fasting is one of the Five Pillars (duties) of Islam. As with other Islamic duties, all able Muslims take part in sawm from about age twelve.

During Ramadan in the Muslim world, most restaurants are closed during the daylight hours. Families get up early for suhoor, a meal eaten before the sun rises. After the sun sets, the fast is broken with a meal known as iftar. Iftar usually begins with dates and sweet drinks that provide a quick energy boost.

Fasting serves many purposes. While they are hungry and thirsty, Muslims are reminded of the suffering of the poor. Fasting is also an opportunity to practice self-control and to cleanse the body and mind. And in this most sacred month, fasting helps Muslims feel the peace that comes from spiritual devotion as well as kinship with fellow believers.

Eid al-Fitr

Ramadan ends with the festival of Eid al-Fitr, which in 2014 occurs on July 28. Literally the "Festival of Breaking the Fast," Eid al-Fitr is one of the two most important Islamic celebrations (the other occurs after the Hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca). At Eid al-Fitr people dress in their finest clothes, adorn their homes with lights and decorations, give treats to children, and enjoy visits with friends and family.

A sense of generosity and gratitude colors these festivities. Although charity and good deeds are always important in Islam, they have special significance at the end of Ramadan. As the month draws to a close, Muslims are obligated to share their blessings by feeding the poor and making contributions to mosques.

Glossary of Islam

View the annotated glossary or click on a link below to learn more about the Islamic religion:

Aga Khan Ismaili
Ali Jerusalem
Black Muslims Mecca
Caliph Medina
Calligraphy Mosque
Fakir Mufti
Fatima Muhammad
Hadith Muslim
Hajj Non-Christians in U.S.
Hegira Qur'an
Husein Ramadan
Islam Sharia
Islam in Africa Shiite
Islamic Art Sufi
Islamic Calendar Sunni
Islamic Holidays Wahhabi




Information Please® Database, © 2007 Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.

Did you know?
A group of sparrows is called a host, a group of magpies a tidings, and a group of peacocks a muster.

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