Islam is roughly 1,400 years old and Ramadan is its holy month. Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of Islam concerns figuring out exactly when the holy month of Ramadan starts. This remains a challenge for many Muslims and it is customary to consult their local mosque for the schedule. This is because the Muslim Calendar is based on the lunar calendar. Every year, the Ramadan shifts approximately 11 days due to the innate disagreement of the lunar and Gregorian calendars.
Marked by the crescent moon
The holy month of Ramadan begins on the first day of the ninth month and is marked by the crescent moon. Sightings and calculations of the crescent moon are used as the usual basis for marking the start of Ramadan. Despite this astronomical guideline the exact day that fasting starts varies, and this is also partly because people who observe Islam live in different time zones around the world. This year, the first full day of fasting was set on July 9, 2013.
Fasting is prescribed for fit and able Muslims during the hours of daylight. During the month, Muslims are allowed “suhoor,” one meal right before sunrise and “iftar,” a whole meal after sunset. Fasting means that they cannot take in food or water, and this is mandatory from dawn to sunset.
But Ramadan is much more than fasting. Ramadan is the time when the first Qur'an verses were revealed by the Prophet himself at around 610 CE. The Night of Power or “Laylat al-Dadr” is believed to be the night when the Qur'an was passed on to the prophet Muhammad. Many Muslims spend this occasion deep in prayer.
In Arabic, Ramadan means “scorching.” The month of Ramadan is meant to purify a person’s thoughts and deeds from material desires and focus the intentions on service and devotion to God. “Scorching” refers not only to the ritual of fasting but also to the purging of lewd and impure thoughts, and bad habits such as cursing, and undesirable emotions such as greed, and anger.
One billion Muslims around the world make the most of the month of Ramadan in order to reflect inwardly on their spiritual lives. Many observers of the religion try to become better Muslims by praying more, reading the Qur'an, attending special services, giving up bad habits, and developing desirable qualities such as generosity, self-discipline, and self-restraint. They also endeavor to ask for forgiveness and do their best to grant pardon in return.
Celebration, charity, and thanks
Ramadan is also a time spent with relatives and close friends. The end of Ramadan is “Eid ul Fitr” or the Festival of the Breaking of the Fast and is celebrated as a holiday in many countries. Muslims are not only celebrating the end of the fasting period but also giving thanks to Allah for the strength that saw them through the whole month of exercising self-control.
On August 7 this year, the holy month of Ramadan will end. At the first sight of the new moon the “Eid ul Fitr” festival will begin. After the morning prayers Muslims can enjoy their first daytime meal after the period of fasting with family and friends.
During Ramadan it is customary for Muslim communities to raise money or donate food and clothing for the benefit of the poor. Muslims are obligated by the Qur’an to give to charity so that people who are less fortunate can celebrate as well.