RELIGION

Here's What You Need To Know About Ramadan

Your questions, answered.

This is an updated version of an article originally published on May 26, 2017.

Ramadan is a month of fasting many Muslims observe to commemorate the first revelation of the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad, according to Islamic history.

What are the dates of Ramadan?

Because the cycle of the lunar calendar does not match the solar calendar, the dates of Ramadan shift by approximately 11 days each year. In 2019, Ramadan is expected to begin in the evening on Monday, May 6, in the United States, although the date is only confirmed once the moon is sighted.

The end of Ramadan is marked by the holiday of Eid al-Fitr, which takes place either 29 or 30 days after the beginning of the month. On Eid al-Fitr, morning prayers are followed by feasting and celebration among family and friends.

Muslims participate in an outdoor prayer event at Masjid Aqsa-Salam mosque, Manhattan's oldest West African mosque, to mark t
Muslims participate in an outdoor prayer event at Masjid Aqsa-Salam mosque, Manhattan's oldest West African mosque, to mark the end of Ramadan on June 15, 2018, in New York City.
What is the history of Ramadan?

Ramadan is the 9th month of the Islamic calendar. The term Ramadan literally means “scorching” in Arabic. It was established as a holy month for Muslims after the Quran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad in 610 CE on the occasion known as Laylat al-Qadr, frequently translated as “the Night of Power.”

Observance of Ramadan is mandated in the Quran, Surah 2, Ayah 185:

“The month of Ramadhan [is that] in which was revealed the Qur’an, guidance for the people and clear proofs of guidance and criterion. So whoever sights [the new moon of] the month, let him fast it; and whoever is ill or on a journey - then an equal number of other days. Allah intends for you ease and does not intend for you hardship and [wants] for you to complete the period and to glorify Allah for that [to] which He has guided you; and perhaps you will be grateful.”

Women pray before iftar, the traditional Ramadan fast-breaking meal, at Lafayette Square during the Muslim holy month of Rama
Women pray before iftar, the traditional Ramadan fast-breaking meal, at Lafayette Square during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan on June 6, 2018, in Washington, DC.

What are the daily fasting requirements?

During the month of Ramadan, most Muslims fast from dawn to sunset with no food or water. Before sunrise, many Muslims have the Suhoor or a predawn meal. At sunset families and friends gather for iftar which is the meal eaten by Muslims to break the fast. Many begin the meal by eating dates as the Prophet is believed to have done.

This ritual fast known as Sawm is one of the five pillars of Islam, and requires that individuals abstain from eating, drinking, smoking and sexual intercourse.

To find the specific times for Ramadan fasting, click over to this helpful tool provided by IslamiCity that allows you to calculate prayer schedules — including sunrise and sunset — by entering your city or zip code. 

In this May 25, 2018, photo, Syrian refugee Majed Abdalraheem, 29, sets the table at his home in Riverdale, Md., as he and hi
In this May 25, 2018, photo, Syrian refugee Majed Abdalraheem, 29, sets the table at his home in Riverdale, Md., as he and his wife, Walaa Jadallah, prepare for the Iftar meal during Ramadan. 
What are the expectations toward charity?

Charity is an important part of Ramadan. The fast emphasizes self-sacrifice and using the experience of hunger to grow in empathy with the hungry. During Ramadan, Muslim communities work together to raise money for the poor, donate clothes and food, and hold iftar dinners for the less fortunate.

What scriptural study do Muslims take part in?

Many Muslims use Ramadan to read the entire Quran or read the Quran daily. Many communities divide the Quran into daily reading segments that conclude on Eid al-Fitr at the end of Ramadan.

Muslim women pray at Bensonhurst Park to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, the end of the Ramadan, in the Brooklyn borough of New York C
Muslim women pray at Bensonhurst Park to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, the end of the Ramadan, in the Brooklyn borough of New York City, New York, U.S., June 15, 2018.
Can non-Muslims participate?

Non-Muslims are free to participate in Ramadan. Many non-Muslims fast and even pray with their Muslim friends or family members. Non-Muslims are often invited to attend prayer and iftar dinners.

Those wishing to be polite to someone who is fasting for Ramadan may greet them with Ramadan Mubarak or Ramadan Kareem, which mean Have a Blessed or Generous Ramadan.

Should Muslims with diabetes fast?

Fasting during Ramadan is discouraged for patients with diabetes by the American Diabetes Association.

“In keeping with this, a large epidemiological study conducted in 13 Islamic countries on 12,243 individuals with diabetes who fasted during Ramadan showed a high rate of acute complications.”

However, the study says this was not conclusive. Many diabetic patients fasted with no complications. Patients with diabetes should work with their doctors to figure out a strategy if they choose to fast.

Muslims gather at an iftar dinner in the street organized by Bergen Diyanet Mosque and Cultural Center during the holy month
Muslims gather at an iftar dinner in the street organized by Bergen Diyanet Mosque and Cultural Center during the holy month of Ramadan in Cliffside Park, New Jersey, United States on June 11, 2018. 
What is the “goal” of Ramadan?

In general, the practices of Ramadan are meant to purify oneself from thoughts and deeds which are counter to Islam. By removing material desires, one is able to focus fully on devotion and service to God. Many Muslims go beyond the physical ritual of fasting and attempt to purge themselves of impure thoughts and motivations such as anger, cursing, and greed.

Do all Muslims take part in Ramadan fasting?

Most Muslims believe Ramadan fasting is mandatory, but there are some groups that do not. Pregnant or breastfeeding mothers, people who are seriously sick, travelers, or those at health risk should not fast. Children that have not gone through puberty are also not required to fast during the month Ramadan. 

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