We here in the Arab world, as well as in the rest of the globe, are observing the holy month of Ramadan; the ninth month of the lunar Islamic calendar. I thought some of you might be interested to know just what Ramadan is and why it is universally observed.
Ramadan is the month in which the first verses of the holy Qur’an were revealed to Prophet Mohammad (Peace be upon him) as well as many other important revelations. For instance Mary (Maryam) (Peace be upon her) was told she would give birth to Jesus (Issa) (Peace be upon him) in the month of Ramadan.
During this month Muslims will refrain from eating, drinking and sexual activities from dawn until sunset. More prayers than usual will be offered, asking forgiveness for past sins, asking for guidance and help in refraining from everyday evils as they try to purify themselves through self-restraint and good deeds.
To prepare for fasting, Muslims wake up before dawn and the Fajr prayer to eat a meal (Sahoor). They break their fast at Maghrib (sunset) prayer time with a meal called Iftar. The fast is intended to be an exacting act of deep personal worship in which Muslims seek a raised awareness of closeness to Allah.
In addition to fasting, Muslims are encouraged to read the entire Qur’an. This can be done communally by the recitation of special prayers called Tarawih which are held in the mosques every night of the month. One thirtieth of the Qur'an is recited each night so that at the end of the month it is finished. It is also a time to slow down from worldly affairs and focus on self-reformation, spiritual cleansing and enlightenment. This is to establish a link between themselves and God through prayer, supplication, charity, good deeds, kindness and helping others. Since it is a festival of giving and sharing, Muslims prepare special foods and buy gifts for their family and friends and for giving to the poor and needy who cannot afford it. There is also a social aspect involving the preparing of special foods and inviting people for Iftar.
The holiday of Eid ul-Fitr marks the end of the fasting period of Ramadan and the first day of the following month, after another new moon has been sighted. A special celebration is made. Food is donated to the poor, everyone puts on their best clothes and communal prayers are held in the early morning followed by feasting and visiting relatives and friends.