The importance of Ramadan
Ramadan is approaching soon – this is a month that is characterized by self-control, will power, sacrifice and an opportunity for Muslims around the world to become closer to Allah. Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and a time when Muslims from all continents unite in a period of abstention from food, drink and other physical needs during daylight hours. It is a period for inner spiritual reflection, devotion to Allah and typically includes increased offerings of salat (prayers) and recitation of the Quran.
Ramadan is an annual observance which is one of the Five Pillars of Islam. It is believed that the first verses of the Quran were revealed to the holy prophet Muhammed in the lunar month of Ramadan; therefore this month is considered to be the most sacred. It typically lasts 29-30 days, from dawn until sunset, and is based on the visual sightings of the hilal (waxing crescent moon following a new moon) as well as astronomical calculations. The exact dates cannot be determined in advance, due to the nature of the Islamic lunar calendar, which is 11 to 12 days shorter than the Gregorian calendar. The length of day and fasting period varies in length from place to place over the years.
This year, Ramadan commences around Saturday, June 28th 2014, and is expected to end around Sunday July 27th 2014. Muslims in certain countries will experience longer days during the summer solstice. In UK, daylight hours will last for approximately 16 hours, so people observing Ramadan here will fast from around 3am until 9pm. It is obligatory for all adult Muslims who are physically able to fast each day of Ramadan. Pregnant women and those who are sick or travelling tiring journeys during this time can make up the fast later when circumstances are different.
During daylight hours, Muslims totally abstain from food, drink, smoking and marital sex. The common practice is to have suhoor (pre-fast meal) before dawn and iftar (post-fast meal) after sunset. The main intention during Ramadan is not only to abstain; it is to educate Muslims in spirituality, humility and patience, and is a time to focus on Allah, practice selflessness and cleanse the soul. It is also a time to spend with friends and family, and fasting is often broken by Muslim families sharing an evening meal together.
The end of Ramadan is marked by Eid-ul-Fitr – the Festival of Fast-Breaking, which celebrates the end of fasting and thanks Allah for the help and strength given during the previous month of Ramadan.