The ninth month of the Islamic calendar, Ramadan, is one of the most important periods in the Muslim year. It is a time of spiritual awakening, self-evaluation and remembrance of Allah, which Muslims observe through fasting and prayer.
Ramadan teaches Muslims self-discipline, humility and giving.
Charity is a significant part of Ramadan and Muslims are expected to help the needy.
For more than a billion Muslims around the world, it is a time for devotion to God and self-restraint, when communal nightly prayers are conducted and the basic teachings of Islam are emphasized and Umrah (Islamic nation) consciousness is heightened.
When does Ramadan fall?
Ramadan falls 11 days earlier each year on the Gregorian calendar and the duration of the fast changes depending on which season the month falls in.
The start of Ramadan, as that of all Islamic months, is based on the sighting of the new moon, the hilal, which is why the crescent is often used as an unofficial symbol of the month. The moon sighting is also the reason that the start of Ramadan differs from one country to another, but many opt to follow Saudi Arabian sightings to be able to mark the days together.
Who is required to fast?
As one of the five pillars of Islam, fasting during Ramadan, which is considered one of the highest forms of worship, is obligatory for those Muslims past the age of puberty who are mentally and physically fit and not travelling, as long as it does not cause them physical or mental harm.
Those who cannot fast during Ramadan, owing to health or other reasons, may fast in other months, or feed the poor.
What exactly is required?
During a Ramadan fast, Muslims abstain from food, drink and sexual activity from dawn till dusk. A fast consists of a true and verbal intention that must be recited, as well as a package of dos and don'ts which are specifically emphasized during the month.
Fasting, or sawm (literally refrain), did not become obligatory until 624 AD. It is an opportunity to cleanse the body and mind and promote the principle of sincerity by keeping the individual away from arrogance.
Among the greatest benefits is the lesson in self-restraint and discipline that could be carried forward to other aspects of a person's life, such as work and education.
A typical day of fasting begins with waking up before dawn to have a meal called the suhoor before the start of the fasting day. At sunset, Muslims usually break their fast upon the call for Maghreb (sunset) prayers with another meal called iftar. Prayers are conducted five times through the day, as they are on all days, and an extra set of prayers called Taraweeh is conducted after Isha or night prayers.
Work hours in the private sector are shortened by two hours for Muslims and non-Muslims.