WATCH: What is Ramadan?
Ramadan is considered one of the holiest months in the Muslim calendar, and is seen as a time of physical and spiritual purification. Fasting from dawn till dusk is the mainstay of this month, and is meant to bring Muslims closer to God through reflection and discipline, and most importantly by feeling the suffering of those less fortunate.
Ramadan is the ninth month in the lunar calendar, and begins with the sighting of the new moon, with the fasts commencing the day after. The month lasts from 29 to 30 days.
Refraining from food and drink is not the only thing expected during one’s fast. Smoking and chewing gum are also forbidden while the fast is in progress. One is also meant to refrain from swearing, lying, or indulging in any other acts of unethical behaviour.
It is common in many Muslim countries, especially in the Gulf, for restaurants to be closed during the day, and for eating in public to be punishable by the law. That is not to say that Muslims are intolerant towards those who are not fasting. On the contrary, many Muslims in America and Europe continue on with their daily activities when fasting, and are accepting of those around them that are not.
In Ramadan, praying regularly is expected, but other religious traditions often come into play.
An important custom is the reading and finishing of the Quran during this month. Taraweeh prayers are a form and method of praying common among Sunni Muslims, and are conducted every evening at local community mosques.
A popular Egyptian tradition is the lighting of the Ramadan lantern or fanoos, which may be placed at the center of the dining table.
Muslims typically break their fasts with water and dates at sundown, in a manner similar to how Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) broke his nearly 1,400 years ago. The pre-dawn meal is called suhoor, and is meant as a way to fuel up and hydrate before the fast begins.
The end of the month is usually devoted to intense prayer, as it is believed that on one of the last ten nights of Ramadan, the Quran was sent down to the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) by the Angel Jibrael, or Gabriel, as he is known by the Christians. Prayers during this time are thought to be received well, and it is not uncommon for Muslims to pray long into the night.
Another very important factor in this month is charity. Contributing to those less fortunate, even if it means just feeding one person or buying them a single meal, is considered a sacred act during Ramadan. In many places, tents are set up by mosques or organisations with large iftar meals for the public to break their fasts, especially the poorer citizens.
All in all, Ramadan is meant as a month of self-restraint and increased awareness of one’s blessings through acknowledging the hardships of others. At a time when 17 million Yemenis face starvation due to the famine and unrest in Yemen, a month of reflection is indeed timely and needed.