Ramadan is the ninth month of the lunar Islamic calendar and in 2013 the holiday is celebrated beginning at sunset on Tuesday July 9th and ending at Sunset on Wednesday evening August 7th with the entire time being considered the most sacred of the months of the Islamic calendar.
The celebration of Ramadan comes directly from the Quran, Chapter 2, Revelation 185, which states it to be “a guidance for mankind, and clear proofs of the guidance, and the criterion (of right and wrong). And whosoever of you is present, let him fast the month, and whosoever of you is sick or on a journey, a number of other days. Allah desires for you ease; He desires not hardship for you; and that you should complete the period, and that you should magnify Allah for having guided you, and that perhaps you may be thankful.”
Ramadan is a time of spiritual reflection and worship. Muslims are expected to put more effort into following the teachings of Islam and to avoid obscene or irreligious sights and sounds – purity of both thoughts and actions is important. The act of fasting is said to redirect the heart away from worldly activities, its purpose being to cleanse the inner soul and free it from harm. It also teaches Muslims to practice self-discipline, self-control, sacrifice, and empathy for those who are less fortunate; thus encouraging actions of generosity and charity.
During Ramadan Muslims are also encouraged to read the entire Quran. Some Muslims perform the recitation of the entire Quran by means of special prayers, called Tarawih, which are held in the mosques every night of the month, during which a whole section of the Quran is recited, thus allowing for the reading of the entire Quran would be completed at the end of the month.
Ramadan is also a time when Muslims are 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; this can involve buying new clothes, shoes and other items of need.
Muslims all around the world will abstain from food and drink, through fasting, from dawn to sunset, however at sunset, families and sometimes larger groups will gather together for the fast-breaking meal known as Iftar. The meal starts with the eating of three dates — just as Muhammad used to do – afterwhich there is the recitation of the “Maghrib Prayer”, which is the fourth of the five daily prayers all Muslims pray after which the main meal is served. Over time, Iftar has often grown into a banquet festival for fellowship with families, friends and surrounding communities, and it may also occupy large spaces at mosques or banquet halls, where hundreds or more may gather at a time.