Here’s What You Need To Know About Ramadan


This is an updated version of an article originally published on May 26, 2017.

Ramadan is a month of fasting many Muslims observe to commemorate the first revelation of the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad, according to Islamic history.

What are the dates of Ramadan?

Because the cycle of the lunar calendar does not match the solar calendar, the dates of Ramadan shift by approximately 11 days each year. In 2018, Ramadan is expected to begin in the evening on Tuesday, May 15, in the United States, although the date is only confirmed once the moon is sighted.

The end of Ramadan is marked by the holiday of Eid ul-Fitr, which takes place either 29 or 30 days after the beginning of the month. On Eid ul-Fitr, morning prayers are followed by feasting and celebration among family and friends.

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A couple looks at Ramadan decorations in the Bayridge neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, on May 14, 2018.
What is the history of Ramadan?

Ramadan is the 9th month of the Islamic calendar. The term Ramadan literally means “scorching” in Arabic. It was established as a Holy Month for Muslims after the Quran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad in 610 CE on the occasion known as Laylat al-Qadr, frequently translated as “the Night of Power.”

Observance of Ramadan is mandated in the Quran, Surah 2, Ayah 185:

“The month of Ramadhan [is that] in which was revealed the Qur’an, guidance for the people and clear proofs of guidance and criterion. So whoever sights [the new moon of] the month, let him fast it; and whoever is ill or on a journey – then an equal number of other days. Allah intends for you ease and does not intend for you hardship and [wants] for you to complete the period and to glorify Allah for that [to] which He has guided you; and perhaps you will be grateful.”

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An imam leads a Maghrib sunset prayer during Ramadan for a family in Bayonne, New Jersey, on June 2, 2017. 

What are the daily fasting requirements?

During the month of Ramadan, most Muslims fast from dawn to sunset with no food or water. Before sunrise many Muslims have the Suhoor or predawn meal. At sunset families and friends gather for iftar which is the meal eaten by Muslims to break the fast. Many begin the meal by eating dates as the Prophet is believed to have done.

This ritual fast known as Sawm is one of the five pillars of Islam, and requires that individuals abstain from eating, drinking, smoking and sexual intercourse.

To find the specific times for Ramadan fasting, click over to this helpful tool provided by IslamiCity that allows you to calculate prayer schedules — including sunrise and sunset — by entering your city or zip code. 

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Muslims perform Eid-al-Fitr prayer in Bensonhurst Park in Brooklyn, New York, on June 25, 2017. 
What are the expectations towards charity?

Charity is an important part of Ramadan. The fast emphasizes self-sacrifice and using the experience of hunger to grow in empathy with the hungry. During Ramadan, Muslim communities work together to raise money for the poor, donate clothes and food, and hold iftar dinners for the less fortunate.

What scriptural study do Muslims take part in?

Many Muslims use Ramadan to read the entire Quran or read the Quran daily. Many communities divide the Quran into daily reading segments that conclude on Eid ul-Fitr at the end of Ramadan.

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A Muslim woman silently recites prayers ahead of the Maghrib sunset prayer at a Sufi service during the month of Ramadan in Manhattan, New York, U.S., on June 3, 2017. 
Can non-Muslims participate?

Non-Muslims are free to participate in Ramadan. Many non-Muslims fast and even pray with their Muslim friends or family members. Non-Muslims are often invited to attend prayer and iftar dinners.

Those wishing to be polite to someone who is fasting for Ramadan may greet them with Ramadan Mubarak or Ramadan Kareem, which mean Have a Blessed or Generous Ramadan.

Should Muslims with diabetes fast?

Fasting during Ramadan is discouraged for patients with diabetes by the American Diabetes Association.

“In keeping with this, a large epidemiological study conducted in 13 Islamic countries on 12,243 individuals with diabetes who fasted during Ramadan showed a high rate of acute complications.”

However, the study says this was not conclusive. Many diabetic patients fasted with no complications. Patients with diabetes should work with their doctors to figure out a strategy if they choose to fast.

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Muslim American friends take part in the last Iftar of Ramadan, ahead of Eid al-Fitr celebrations, on a beach in Long Branch, New Jersey, U.S., June 24, 2017. 
What is the “goal” of Ramadan?

In general, the practices of Ramadan are meant to purify oneself from thoughts and deeds which are counter to Islam. By removing material desires, one is able to focus fully on devotion and service to God. Many Muslims go beyond the physical ritual of fasting and attempt to purge themselves of impure thoughts and motivations such as anger, cursing, and greed.

Do all Muslims take part in Ramadan fasting?

Most Muslims believe Ramadan fasting is mandatory, but there are some groups that do not. Pregnant or breastfeeding mothers, people who are seriously sick, travelers, or those at health risk should not fast. Children that have not gone through puberty are also not required to fast during the month Ramadan. 

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