Fasting for Ramadan Starts Today: 5 Things to Know

ramadan prayerToday, August 1, marks the first day of Ramadan, or the ninth month in the Islamic calendar in which practicing Muslims participate in fasting from dawn until dusk. That means no eating, no drinking, and no intimate contact with your spouse from sunrise to sunset. The fast is intended to put the focus back on Allah, to teach Muslims about patience, humility, reverence, and acceptance of God. Ramadan honors the time when the Quran was first revealed to the prophet Muhammad. Religious prayer times are an integral part of Ramadan, and finding Quran recitation passages by using the Quran online or, of course, the ubiquitous iPhone app can help the devoted pay their respects.

There's so much to learn about Ramadan, but here are five facts to keep you a little bit in the know.

  1. WHO: The Muslim faith observes Ramadan. Once puberty is reached, it's essential that Muslims take part in Ramadan if they are healthy and able. If one is unhealthy or elderly and should eat during the fast, it's advised that they help feed the poor instead. Women pregnant, nursing, or menstruating are also allowed to break fast, so long as they make up the days some other time.
  2. WHAT: Ramadan is a month-long spiritual journey of fasting from sun up to sun down that is intended to enlighten participants about self-sacrifice and higher realms of faith.
  3. WHEN: The first day of Ramadan falls during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and after the first sighting of the new moon. The date of the fasting period will vary each year since it's based on the Islamic lunar calendar, but will always last between 29-30 days. For example, in 2010, it started on August 10, and in 2012, it will start on July 20.
  4. WHERE: Many Muslims live in the Middle East and North Africa, but the faithful are obviously worldwide. Prayer times change due to location, but mosques will be observing this holy month no matter what country they're in. In some westernized Muslim households, the house is festively decorated to make Ramadan more fun for the children.
  5. WHY: The purpose of the fast is to focus on purity of both thoughts and actions. Self-discipline, self-reflection, and self-control are some of the virtues that Ramadan is aiming to instill in the Muslim followers. Empathy for those who don't have food every day and for those who aren't as fortunate is also a powerful lesson. Since it's a time for sharing as well, family and friends gather at night to eat supper together, and sometimes exchange gifts. The fast is broken after sunset each night with Iftar, the fast breaking meal that traditionally starts with eating a date.

Do you or anyone you know observe Ramadan?

Photo via Thamer Al-Hassan/Flickr

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