Every year, 1.8 billion Muslims around the world look forward to the sacred month of Ramadan. Their days are marked by fasting from dawn to sunset, and their nights come alive with extra worship like reciting the Qur’an, prayers at the mosque and joyful meals as they break their fast with family and friends. This article is your ultimate guide to Ramadan as it answers all you need to know about this holy month!

What is Ramadan?

Let’s get to the basics. What is it? Ramadan is the name given to the ninth month of the  Islamic lunar calendar. The word ‘Ramadan’ stems from the Arabic root “ar-ramad”, which means scorching heat. Some scholars also say that the month is named such since the act of fasting burns away sins. 

Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, said: 

“Allah has decreed this month the best of all months. The days of this month are the best among the days and the nights are the best among the nights and the hours during Ramadan are the best among the hours. This is a month in which you have been invited by Him (to fast and pray). Allah has honoured you in it. In every breath you take is a reward of Allah, your sleep is worship, your good deeds are accepted and your invocations are answered.”

Ramadan Fasting 101

As mentioned before, Muslims fast from dawn to dusk for the 29 or 30 days of Ramadan. Fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam. The other four being: the proclamation of the testimony of faith, the five prayers, paying of alms also called Zakat, and the major pilgrimage called Hajj. 

During the fast, Muslims abstain not just from eating and drinking (yes, even water!) but also from any sexual activity, and to the best of their ability, foul language and bad behaviour. Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, said, “Five things break a man’s fast: lying, backbiting, scandalmongering, perjury and a lustful gaze.”

Do all Muslims fast the whole month?

Actually, no. 

There are exemptions from the fast. In the Qur’an, it is mentioned, “Yet if one among you is sick or is on a journey, [such a person shall then fast] the same number of other days.” People who are unwell, travelling, or those in advanced age are all exempted from fasting. Women who are on their period don’t fast either.

Why do Muslims fast in Ramadan?

In the Qur’an, the reason given for fasting in Ramadan is as follows:

“O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that you may (learn) self-restraint.” 

Ask any Muslim who has fasted before and they can tell you that besides learning restraint and patience, fasting actually increases them in gratitude for all they’ve been given, and this usually starts from being grateful for food and drink, but extends to all other blessings.

Ending a Fasting: Closing Prayer

Can we ask about the Moon Wars?

Of course! Each month of the Islamic lunar calendar begins when the new moon is sighted, Ramadan included. However, due to a cloudy night, or any number of reasons that may make moon sighting difficult, the same town can have different people seeing and therefore saying different things. 

While some countries and communities have come to rely on precise scientific calculations of when the new moon is, others prefer to still have someone sight the new moon with their eyes in order to determine the start of the month. This is why every year “Ramadan start date” is one of the most-searched phrases. 

What else do Muslims do in Ramadan besides fasting?

As mentioned before, Ramadan is a special month where good deeds are believed to be rewarded even more than other months. Muslims vie with each other to do the most good. This includes hosting family and friends for iftar, or the breaking of the fast.

Muslims are most charitable in this month. At LaunchGood, the numbers don’t lie, and any Muslim organisation and charity can tell you the same: Muslims are a charitable people, and especially so in the month of Ramadan.

They also spend more time at the mosque, especially in the evenings when there is a special prayer called tarawih/taraweeh that is only prayed during Ramadan and not in any other months, and during the last ten days. The whole month, but especially the nights and the last ten days, are a time for great spiritual reflection, seclusion and a shift in focus from this worldly life to closeness to Allah. 

Additionally, there is one night in the night of Ramadan that is called the Night of Power or Laylatul Qadr. Allah says in the Qur'an, “The Night of Power is better than a thousand months,” (Qur'an, 97:3). The Prophet, peace be upon him, said, “Whoever prays on Laylatul Qadr out of faith and sincerity, shall have all their past sins forgiven.”  

This special night is popularly believed to be on the 27th night of Ramadan, but the Prophet has said that it could be on any night in the last ten nights. As you can imagine, Muslims who are serious about getting the Night of Power would exert themselves in worship in the last ten days and nights. 

Zakat in Ramadan

We also cannot talk about Ramadan without mentioning Zakat or paying alms, the other pillar of Islam. Besides voluntary giving in regular charity, a Muslim needs to pay 2.5% of his wealth and assets in Zakat annually. Although you are required to pay your Zakat after having a specific amount of wealth for a year, which means it could be in any month that Zakat is due, many Muslims choose to pay their Zakat in Ramadan for extra blessings and reward. 

You can find out more about Zakat, how to calculate Zakat, where to pay your Zakat, get your Zakat questions answered, and more here.

Finally, Eid!

Thousands of Muslims pray outside Mosque

The end of the month is marked by 3 days of celebrations called Eid Al-Fitr. It is a day of great joy and Muslims celebrate it with a mass, usually outdoors, prayer, followed by exchanging gifts, visiting each other and feasting! Muslims greet each other with “Eid Mubarak!” and pray for each other in the following way:

Taqabbala Allah minna wa minkum - May Allah accept (good deeds) from us and from you.

Minal aidin wal faidzin - May you be among those who return to purity and among those granted glory.

Kullu am wa antum bikhair - May you be well throughout the year.

We hope this was useful for you to understand what Ramadan means and what Muslims do in this month!

Ameera Aslam is passionate about telling stories about incredible Muslims around the world and loves working with her sincere and passionate colleagues. Outside of LaunchGood, she is an award-winning poet and a mountain lover. You can buy her book at www.desiringlightbook.com.