Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and it is the month in which the Qur’an was revealed to Prophet Muhammad ﷺ.
It is the month of fasting, in which participating Muslims do not eat or drink anything from true dawn until sunset. Fasting is meant to teach the person patience, sacrifice and humility. Ramadan is a time to fast for the sake of God, and to offer more prayer than usual. During Ramadan, Muslims ask forgiveness for past sins, pray for guidance and help in refraining from everyday evils, and try to purify themselves through self-restraint and good deeds.
The name “Ramadan” is the name of the ninth month; the word itself derived from an Arabic root rmḍ, as in words like “ramiḍa” or “ar-ramaḍ” denoting intense heat, scorched ground and shortness of rations. It is the most venerated month of the Islamic year. Prayers, fasting, charity and self-accountability are especially stressed at this time; religious observances associated with Ramaḍān are kept throughout the month.
Practices during Ramadan
The most prominent event of this month is fasting. Every day during the month of Ramadan, Muslims around the world get up before dawn to eat Suhoor, the pre-dawn meal, and perform the fajr prayer. They have to stop eating and drinking before the call for prayer starts until the fourth prayer of the day, Maghrib. Muslims may continue to eat and drink after the sun has set until the next morning’s fajr prayer call. Then the process starts all over.
Ramadan is a time of reflecting and worshiping God. Muslims are expected to put more effort into following the teachings of Islam and to avoid obscene and irreligious sights and sounds. Sexual thoughts and activities during fasting hours are also forbidden.[Qur’an 2:187] Purity of both thought and action is important. The fast is intended to be an exacting act of deep personal worship in which Muslims seek a raised level of closeness to God.
The act of fasting is said to redirect the heart away from worldly activities, its purpose being to cleanse the inner soul and free it from harm. Properly observing the fast is supposed to induce a comfortable feeling of peace and calm. It also allows Muslims to practice self-discipline, self-control, sacrifice, and sympathy for those who are less fortunate. It is also intended to make Muslims more generous and charitable. A certain level of self-control can be lost by those who suffer from eating disorders.
The elderly, the chronically ill and the insane are exempt from fasting, although the first two groups must endeavor to feed one poor person each day in place of their missed fasting. Also exempt are pregnant women, women during the period of their menstruation, and women nursing their newborns, all of whom must make up the days they miss at a later date. While fasting is not considered compulsory in childhood, many children endeavor to complete as many fasts as possible as practice for later life. Lastly, those traveling are exempt, but must make up the days they miss.
Prayer and reading of the Qur’an
In addition to fasting, Muslims are encouraged to read the entire Qur’an.
Ramadan is also a time when Muslims are to slow down from worldly affairs and focus on self-reformation, spiritual cleansing and enlightenment, establishing a link between themselves and God through prayer, supplication, charity, good deeds, kindness and helping others.
Since it is a festival of giving and sharing, Muslims prepare special foods and buy gifts for their family and friends and for giving to the poor and needy who cannot afford it; this can involve buying new clothes, shoes and other items of need. There is also a social aspect involved – the preparing of special foods and inviting people for the Iftar meal (the meal to break the fast).
Taraweeh prayers are prayed only in Ramadan, after Isha prayers every night of the month, during which a whole section of the Qur’an (juz, which is 1/30 of the Qur’an) is recited. Therefore the entire Qur’an would be completed at the end of the month.
Sunni Muslims believe it is customary to attempt a ‘khatm’ (complete recitation) of the Qur’an in Ramadan by reciting at least one juz per night in taraweeh. If someone does not know how to read Qur’an or cannot read it very well, they may recite Surahs that they know.
Taraweeh prayers are offered in Sunni Muslim communities worldwide, and they are important congregational events for both men and women. In Muslim countries where women do not attend mosques regularly, they tend to pray taraweeh at home, but can pray at the mosque as well.
Laylat al-Qadr, considered the most holy night of the year, is the night in which the Qur’an was revealed to Muhammed. Muslims believe it to have occurred on an odd-numbered night during the last 10 days of Ramaḍān, either the night of the 21st, 23rd, 25th, 27th or 29th (in Sunni thought) or the 19th, 21st or 23rd (in Shi’a thought). Ramaḍān ends with Eid ul-Fitr, with much celebration and feasts.
The Islamic holiday of Eid ul-Fitr marks the end of the fasting period of Ramadan and the first day of the following month, after another new moon has been sighted. The Eid falls after 29 or 30 days of fasting, as per the lunar sighting. Eid ul-Fitr means the Festival of Breaking the Fast; a special celebration is made. Food is donated to the poor (‘Zakat al-Fitr’), everyone puts on their best, usually new, clothes, and communal prayers are held in the early morning, followed by feasting and visiting relatives and friends. The prayer is two rakaahs only, and it is an optional prayer as opposed to the compulsory five daily prayers.
Prophet Muhammad ﷺ addressed his companions on the last day of Sha`ban, saying, “Oh people! A great month has come over you; a blessed month; a month in which is a night better than a thousand months; month in which Allah has made it compulsory upon you to fast by day, and voluntary to pray by night. Whoever draws nearer (to Allah) by performing any of the (optional) good deeds in (this month) shall receive the same reward as performing an obligatory deed at any other time, and whoever discharges an obligatory deed in (this month) shall receive the reward of performing seventy obligations at any other time. It is the month of patience, and the reward of patience is Heaven. It is the month of charity, and a month in which a believer’s sustenance is increased. Whoever gives food to a fasting person to break his fast, shall have his sins forgiven, and he will be saved from the Fire of Hell, and he shall have the same reward as the fasting person, without his reward being diminished at all.”
Narrated by Ibn Khuzaymah
Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said: “Ramadan has come to you. (It is) a month of blessing, in which Allah covers you with blessing, for He sends down Mercy, decreases sins and answers prayers. In it, Allah looks at your competition (in good deeds), and boasts about you to His angels. So show Allah goodness from yourselves, for the unfortunate one is he who is deprived in (this month) of the mercy of Allah, the Mighty, the Exalted.”
Narrated by Tabarani
Prophet Muhammad ﷺ was the most generous of all the people, and he used to reach the peak in generosity in the month of Ramadan when Gabriel met him. Gabriel used to meet him every night of Ramadan to teach him the Qur’an. Prophet Muhammad ﷺ was the most generous person, even more generous than the strong uncontrollable wind (in readiness and haste to do charitable deeds).
Sahih Bukhari 1.5, Narrated by Ibn Abbas
Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said: “Whoever establishes prayers during the nights of Ramadan faithfully out of sincere faith and hoping to attain Allah’s rewards (not for showing off), all his past sins will be forgiven.”
Sahih Bukhari 1.7, Narrated by Abu Huraira
“O those who believe, the fasts have been enjoined upon you as were enjoined upon those before so that you be God-fearing.”
Quran Surah 2 Verse 183
(Fasting) for a fixed number of days; but if any of you is ill or on a journey the prescribed number (should be made up) from days later. For those who can do it (with hardship) is a ransom the feeding of one that is indigent. But he that will give more of his own free will it is better for him and it is better for you that ye fast if ye only knew.
Quran Surah 2 Verse 184
Ramadan is the (month) in which was sent down the Qur’an as a guide to mankind also clear (Signs) for guidance and Judgement (between right and wrong). So everyone of you who is present (at his home) during that month should spend it in fasting but if anyone is ill or on a journey the prescribed period (should be made up) by days later. Allah intends every facility for you He does not want to put you to difficulties. (He wants you) to complete the prescribed period and to glorify Him in that He has guided you; and perchance ye shall be grateful.
Quran Surah 2 Verse 185
Permitted to you on the night of the fasts is the approach to your wives. They are your garments. And ye are their garments. Allah knoweth what ye used to do secretly among yourselves; but He turned to you and forgave you; so now associate with them and seek what Allah hath ordained for you and eat and drink until the white thread of dawn appear to you distinct from its black thread; then complete your fast till the night appears; but do not associate with your wives while ye are in retreat in the mosques. Those are limits (set by) Allah; approach not nigh thereto. Thus doth Allah make clear His signs to men that they may learn self-restraint.
Quran Surah 2 Verse 187