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Ramadan: the facts

While scenes of Muslims praying inundate world news this month, we go in search of the facts about Ramadan and why it is such an important event for Islamic communities.

Ramadan: the facts

Millions of Muslims around the world will observe fasting from dawn till dusk during the month of July. The annual month-long event known as Ramadan takes place in the ninth month of the Islamic calendar – the same month that the Quar’an was revealed to the prophet Mohammed.

The word Ramadan, originally comes from the Arabic words ramida or ar-ramad, meaning scorching heat/dryness.

The fourth of five pillars of Islam, Ramadan will see followers abstain from all food and drink during daylight hours. Fasting, like it is observed in many other religions, is intended to teach self-discipline and sacrifice and an important reminder of the suffering of those who go without food. It is also an opportunity to practise generosity and charity.

Apart from fasting, muslims are also encouraged to give up bad-habits, pray more and read the Qua’ran – with many reading the holy book in its entirety at least once during the month – and attend special services at their local mosques, in an effort to gain greater spirituality. It is believed that by removing all material desires, believers are able to focus all their attention on devotion and service to God.

The event takes place according to the lunar calendar, hence why its shifts by approximately 11 days every year. This year’s Ramadan began on the 8th of July, with the first full day of fasting taking place the following day. Fasting is broken pre-dawn and post-dusk. While fasting is mandatory for all adults, the ill, elderly, pregnant, women who are nursing newborns or who are menstruating and those that travel long distances are all exempt. They are instead encouraged to compensate by feeding the poor and unfortunate during meals that break the fast.

It is common to have a meal just before sunrise, known as the suhoor, and another meal, known as the iftar, directly after sunset. Both main meals will contain fresh fruit, vegetables, halal meats, breads, cheeses and sweets. Since the suhoor is needed to help one last throughout the whole day it tends to be a heavier and heartier meal before the fajr, morning prayer.

The iftar meal begins after the maghrib sunset prayer, where many Muslims break the fast by eating dates before beginning their evening meal. Ramadan is also a time to spend with friends and family and as such whole families or communities will often break the fast together by sharing in an evening meal. Muslims can continue eating and drinking throughout the night until the next day’s suhoor.

At the end of the Ramadan month, Muslims celebrate the Festival of the Breaking of the Fast, called Eid al-Fitr. This year’s eid celebrations will begin on August 7th and conclude the following evening.

Non-muslims can participate by praying, fasting and attending iftar dinners. Those who wish to be polite to someone who is fasting during Ramadan may greet them with Ramadan Mubarak or Ramadan Kareem, which translates as Have a Blessed or Generous Ramadan.

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