Observed in Countries with Muslim populations
Observed on Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar
Observed by Muslims

Ramadan, the most sacred month of the year for more than one billion Muslims, is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. Muslims believe that Allah began to reveal the Koran (their sacred book) to Muhammad on the 27th day of Ramadan many centuries ago. This process continued for 23 years, until Muhammad’s death in 632 C.E. The much awaited commencement of the month is based on sightings of the new Moon as well as astronomical calculations. Ramadan is frequently used as a synonym for Sawm, the sacred fasting festival that runs throughout the month.
During Ramadan Muslims observe a stringent, dawn-to-dusk fast. The consumption of food and water during the day is strictly forbidden. This period is a time for introspection, devotion to God, and self-control. Muslims consider it as a necessary period for revitalizing their spiritual lives.
Fasting did not originate with Islam; it is perhaps as old as Adam, who was the first Muslim to submit to Allah. It is not quite clear when fasting began among Adam’s descendants, but all the prophets practiced it and considered it to be a good discipline for others.
The Koran mentions that Musa (Moses) fasted for 40 days; Dawud (David, the legendary king of Israel) used to fast for half of the year (fasting every other day); Issa (Jesus) was also known to have fasted for 40 days (during what is now called Lent, usually observed before Easter by Christian churches). Modern-day Muslims firmly believe that Allah intends to draw the attention of ordinary mortals to the deeds and practices of those noble souls who attained piety through fasting.
The third religious obligation, or pillar, of Islam’s Five Pillars, fasting has many other benefits.
Among these, the most important is that it is a means of learning self-restraint. Because fasting draws attention away from satisfying bodily appetites during the daylight hours, one’s spiritual nature achieves a measure of ascendancy, bringing one closer to God. Ramadan is thus a time of intense worship, reading of the Koran, practicing charity, purifying one’s behavior, and performing good deeds.
As a secondary goal, fasting is a way of experiencing hunger and developing empathy with the less fortunate (who often are underfed and may even starve), in addition to expressing gratitude and appreciation for all of God’s gifts. From a medical point of view, fasting is also beneficial to health and provides a suitable break in the cycle of overindulgence.
Throughout the Islamic world all restaurants are closed during the day during Ramadan. Families usually wake up early for the suhoor, a predawn meal. After sunset, the fast is broken by a small meal known as the iftar (which generally comprises dates and beverages that boost energy quickly). Evening prayers and dinner follow. Since Ramadan stresses communal harmony (with everyone dining at almost the same time), it is a common practice among Muslims to invite others to share the evening meal, giving rise to iftar parties.

Origins and History
Muhammad, though only an illiterate trader from Arabia, was unlike other people of his time. He had a reflective bent of mind and routinely spent his nights in a cave (near Mecca, his home), in meditation and introspection. Around the year 610 on the 27th of Ramadan, while meditating, Muhammad had a vision of the archangel Gabriel (Jibril) and heard a voice saying to him: “Read in the name of your Lord the Creator. He created man from something which clings.” Gabriel went on to tell Muhammad that he had been chosen to receive the word of Allah. In subsequent days Muhammad uttered the first verses that would be recorded as the Koran. (In Arabic, Quran, from quran meaning “to read” or “to utter.”) What is now a compulsory annual event to be observed by all able-bodied Muslims started in the early years of Muhammad’s stay in Medina. Prior to his flight to Medina, he was in the habit of fasting three times a month, and he ordered his companions to fast along with him. The fast and its accompanying restrictions were meant to teach Muslims the virtues of self-control, patience, and serenity, as well as charity and compassion for the less fortunate.
Observance of the fast is believed to make up for personal misdeeds and faults and to secure a place in paradise for the devout. It is a time for devotion, meditation, and reaffirmation of one’s faith in Allah and in Islam.
Ramadan also became a period of abstention and of practicing different types of austerities. During this month, feasting, drinking, smoking, gambling, and sexual relationships are forbidden. Devotees are also expected to abstain from emotional vices like anger, violence, greed, envy, backbiting, and lust. These prohibitions are to be practiced only during the daylight hours. Customarily, they start at dawn, from the time a white line is visible on the horizon, and end at dusk, when the Sun sinks below the horizon. These hours are called fajr and maghrib, respectively.
When the fast ends (on the first day of Shawwal, the following month), Eid al-Fitr is observed for three days. Gifts are exchanged, and Muslims rejoice for having endured the fast, thus having come closer to Allah. Eid al-Fitr is a time for friends and families to worship and enjoy being together. In some places, fairs are organized to celebrate the end of Ramadan.
During Ramadan, it is customary for Muslims to visit the masjid (“mosque”) and spend many hours there praying, meditating, and studying the Koran.
Apart from the habitual five daily prayers, Muslims chant a special prayer known as the “Taraweeh” (“Night Prayer”) during Ramadan. The prayer’s length is generally twice or three times the length of the daily prayers. In fact, devout Muslims routinely spend the whole night in prayer.