Over a billion Muslims worldwide, including about 10 million in North America, observe the fasting holiday of Ramadan each year.
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, and because the calendar is lunar, the holiday falls at a slightly different time each year. This year Ramadan began on October 27 and ended on November 25.
The religious belief behind Ramadan is that it was during this month that God revealed the first verses of what would become the Koran, the holy scriptures of the Muslim religion, to the prophet Mohammed in the year 610 A.D.
Muslims observing Ramadan abstain from eating, drinking, smoking and sexual intercourse every day from sunrise until sunset. The fast provides Muslims with a time to develop sympathy for those who are less fortunate and to be thankful for the things that they have.
Each night, the fast is broken with prayer and a meal called the iftar. Children, pregnant women and people who are suffering from illness are exempted from the requirement to fast.
Ramadan is also a time for prayer and reflection on God and life. During the month, sections of the Koran are recited each night at many mosques in prayers known as “tarawih.” One thirtieth of the holy book is recited each night, so that the entire scripture will have been recited by the end of the month.
On Eid-al-Fitr, the day after Ramadan, the end of the month of fasting is celebrated with a day of public prayers. In the evening everyone dresses in their best clothes, and a great feast is shared between family and friends. People congratulate one another on the completion of Ramadan with phrases like the Arabic “kullu am wa antum bi-khair,” which means, “may you be well throughout the year.”