The holy month of Ramadan will start at the end of May this year, marking a period of fasting and religious focus for millions of Muslims across the globe. Here we look at what the month means for Muslims, why people fast during this period, and why it falls at a different time each year.
What is Ramadan?
Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam and marks the month that the Quran was first revealed to the Prophet Muhammed. For many Muslims it means a month of fasting from sunrise to sunset, forgoing food and water, smoking and sexual activity during daylight. When fasting, Muslims will have one meal before sunrise, called suhoor, and share another meal with friends and family after sunset, called iftar.
Why do Muslims fast?
Ramadan is a holy month where many Muslims will focus on prayer and reading the Quran, while generosity and giving to good causes or neighbours is encouraged. It is a period of reflection, patience, self-restraint and generosity that is intended to bring Muslims closer to Allah.
Fasting during Ramadan is required for all Muslims from when they reach puberty, generally between the ages of 12 and 14, though some families start their children fasting at the age of 10. Those exempt from fasting are those who are too ill to fast, the elderly, those suffering from a mental illness, those who are travelling, and women who are pregnant, breastfeeding or menstruating. People who would normally be able to fast but have been unable to due to travelling long distances or being ill are required to complete their fast at a later date.
When is Ramadan?
Ramadan starts on either 26 or 27 May this year and lasts until 26 or 27 June this year. The start of the month of fasting will be determined by the sighting of the new moon, the Muslim Council of Britain says.
Why does Ramadan vary each year?
Ramadan is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar, which is based on a lunar calendar where each month begins at the start of a new moon. As lunar months are shorter than solar months it means the Islamic calendar does not correspond with the Gregorian calendar followed in the West. It means Ramadan occurs around 11 days earlier each year.
The start of Ramadan also varies from country to country by about a day, depending on when the new moon is sighted.
What is Eid al-Fitr?
Eid al-Fitr is the ‘festival of the breaking of the fast’ and marks the end of Ramadan each year. Muslims wish each other a happy Eid during the celebrations by saying “Eid Mubarak,” and often gather with family and friends to eat and pray together. The festival can last for up to three days and also sees people give money to charity as part of celebrations.
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