5 things you should know about Ramadan, Islam’s holy month of fasting

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Muslims around the globe are observing the holy month of Ramadan, which begins for most on either around Monday, April 12 or Tuesday, April 13.


Throughout the holiday, observers fast from sunrise to sunset and partake in nightly feasts.

Here are five things to know about Islam’s sacred month:

What is Ramadan?

  • In the Islamic calendar, Ramadan is the ninth month and according to the BBC, it counted among the holiest months.
  • This month is a period of fasting and prayer.
  • It is believed to be the month in which Mohammad, whom Muslims consider a prophet, revealed the holy book — Quran — to Muslims.
  • The word “Ramadan” itself is taken from the Arabic word, “ramad,” an adjective describing something scorchingly dry or intensely heated by the sun.

When is Ramadan?

Since the Islamic calendar adheres to the lunar calendar of 12 months rather than the Gregorian calendar, a solar calendar used in the Western part of the globe, every month starts as the new crescent moon emerges. It continues for 29 or 30 days. Each year, this makes Ramadan start 10 to 12 days earlier.

In 2021, Ramadan will start on Monday, April 12 or Tuesday, April 13 and last through Tuesday, May 11.

Last year, the first day of Ramadan in the United States was Thursday, April 23 or Friday, April 24 depending on the country.

To determine when exactly the holy month will begin, Muslim-majority countries look to local moon sighters, according to Al Jazeera.

In some countries, such as Saudi Arabia, special infrared cameras are used to capture the new moon.

According to Forbes seeing the crescent moon will signify the start of Ramadan 2021.

“The 30-day Islamic festival of Ramadan begins with the first sighting of the super-slim crescent Moon over Mecca, the birthplace of Muhammad,” the website said. “That crescent Moon may be sighted as a tiny crescent on Monday, but it’s far more likely to be seen this evening at dusk as a brighter 3% crescent slightly higher in the western sky.”

The lunar months last between 29 and 30 days, depending on the sighting of the moon on the 29th night of each month. If the moon is not visible, the month will last 30 days.

Al Jazeera reports via the Qatar Calendar House (QCH) that the new moon will emerge at 10:31 p.m. EST.

Fasting hours will vary around the world, according to Al Jazeera. Muslims who live in the Northern Hemisphere will have fasting hours that are a bit shorter and will continue to decrease until 2032. That is the year that Ramadan will occur during the winter solstice, which is the shortest day of the year. Then, fasting hours will increase until the summer solstice, the Northern Hemisphere’s longest day of the year. Muslims who live south of the equator will experience the opposite effect.

What do Muslims do during Ramadan and why?

Ramadan is known as the holy month of fasting, with Muslims abstaining from eating and drinking from sunrise to sunset.

Fasting during the holiday is one of the Five Pillars of Islam, along with the daily prayer, declaration of faith, charity and performing the Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia.

More than 1,400 years ago, according to Al Jazeera, Muslims were commanded to fast during Ramadan.

The fast is intended to remind Muslims of the suffering of those less fortunate and bring believers closer to God (Allah, in Arabic).

During the month, Muslims also abstain from habits such as smoking, caffeine, sex, and gossip; this is seen as a way to both physically and spiritually purify oneself while practicing self-restraint.

Here’s what a day of fasting during Ramadan is like:

  • Muslims have a predawn meal called the "suhoor."
  • Then, they fast all day until sunset.
  • At sunset, Muslims break their fast with a sip of water and some dates, the way they believe Mohammad broke his fast more than a thousand years ago.
  • After sunset prayers, they gather at event halls, mosques or at home with family and friends in a large feast called "iftar."

How is the end of Ramadan celebrated?

Toward the end of the month, Muslims celebrate Laylat al-Qadr or “the Night of Power/Destiny” — a day observers believe Allah sent the Angel Gabriel to Mohammad to reveal the Quran’s first verses.

On this night, which falls on one of the last 10 nights of Ramadan, Muslims practice intense worship as they pray for answers and seek forgiveness for any sins.

To mark the end of Ramadan, determined by the sighting of the moon on the 29th night of Ramadan, a 3-day celebration called Eid al-Fitr brings families and friends together in early morning prayers followed by picnics, feasts and fun. In 2021, Eid al-Fitr is likely to fall on Wednesday, May 12.

Does every Muslim fast during Ramadan?

According to most interpreters of the Quran, children, the elderly, the ill, pregnant women, women who are nursing or menstruating, and travelers are exempt from fasting.

Some interpreters also consider intense hunger and thirst as well as compulsion (someone threatening another to do something) exceptions.

But as an entirety, whether Muslims fast or not often depends on their ethnicity and country.

Many Muslims in Muslim-majority countries, for example, observe the month-long fast during Ramadan, according to 2012 data from the Pew Research Center.

In fact, in Saudi Arabia, Muslims and non-Muslims can be fined or jailed for eating in public during the day, according to the Associated Press.

But in the United States and in Europe, many Muslims are accepting of non-observers.

According to 2017 data from Pew researchers, eight-in-ten U.S. Muslims said they fast during the holiday.

The Pew survey found that more Muslim adults in America fast during Ramadan than say they pray five times a day or attend mosque every week. Additionally, far more women reported fasting during the holy month than wearing the hijab.

Storby By Fiza Pirani
For original story, which includes additional photos and information click here