Ramadhan is the ninth and holiest month in the Islamic calendar, marked by Muslims as a month of piety, charity and thriftiness.
Observing the Ramadhan fast is one of the five pillars of the Islamic faith, alongside the profession of faith, the five daily prayers, the giving of alms and the pilgrimage to Mecca.
How is it observed? During the 29 or 30 days of Ramadhan, observant Muslims abstain from eating, drinking, smoking and relations with their spouses between sunrise and sunset.
The fast is seen as a spiritual struggle against the temptations of earthly pleasures. It is also a chance to renew family and social bonds. Families gather at sundown for iftar, the breaking of the fast, while many mosques serve free communal meals to the poor.
After the fast, many Muslims gather at mosques for special Ramadhan prayers known as taraweeh. The spiritual climax of the month is Laylat-ul – qadr (the night of power), which commemorates the moment the angel Gabriel first appeared to Muhammad and began revealing the Quran.
The final day of Ramadhan, Eid al Fitr (the festival of fast-breaking), is a major family event marked by feasting and celebration. Who is required to fast? The fast is considered obligatory for all Muslims over the age of puberty. Although children are exempt, parents are encouraged to gradually get them used to it.
Pregnant or breastfeeding women, the sick, travellers and fighters are allowed to delay their fast, but must resume it as soon as they have the chance. Ramadhan will be particularly hard this year for many Muslims in the northern hemisphere, coming in summer with its long days and hot temperatures across much of the Muslim world.
How is the date set for the start of Ramadhan? Ramadhan is the ninth month of Islam’s Hijri calendar, a lunar system that sets the dates for Islamic religious festivals. The Hijri calender has 11 days fewer than the solar Gregorian calendar, meaning that the start of Ramadhan shifts back every year. The beginning of the fast is announced when the first quarter of the new moon is visible with the naked eye.
Religious scholars meet every year to determine the exact date, which can vary from country to country. — AFP