Ramadan Explained Religion series

This year, Ramadan takes place during a global pandemic. As many cities and countries around the world are locked down, Muslims are observing a month of piety. So, what is the Islamic holy month all about?


Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. It is a time when followers of Islam, known as Muslims, fast during daylight hours. This includes abstaining from food, drink and sexual intercourse. Ramadan is a time of personal reflection, spiritual growth and community bonding.


In Islam, it is compulsory for Muslims to observe Ramadan, but some have exemptions. They include pre-pubescent children, the elderly, those in poor health and travelers, as well as women who are pregnant or nursing. If someone misses a day of fasting, he or she will have to make up for it by fasting another day. If they are physically unable to do so, they are obliged to feed a fasting person for that day.

There are 1.8 billion Muslims in the world, including more than 225 million in Indonesia, 195 million in India and 85 million in Egypt. Hundreds of millions of them fast during Ramadan.


Ramadan is the month in which Muslims believe that the Quran, the Islamic holy book, was first revealed. This moment is known as laylat al-qadr (night of decree) and takes place sometime in the last 10 nights of Ramadan.

Fasting during this month is one of the five pillars of Islam, which are the core beliefs and practices of the religion. They also include shahada (declaration of faith), praying five times a day, giving to charity and performing the hajj pilgrimage.

Fasting, an act of worship to Allah (God), is a chance for Muslims to learn self-restraint by not eating or drinking. It is also a period of introspection, looking inward and improving one’s character. In addition, Muslims are reminded to think of those who are less fortunate than them.


Ramadan is marked annually and lasts for 29 or 30 days. Muslims follow a lunar calendar that is known as Hijri in Arabic. This means that for Ramadan to begin, Muslims around the world must first see the hilal, or new moon.

Unlike the Gregorian calendar, the Hijri has 354 or 355 days, which means the timing of Ramadan moves back by around 11 days each year. In 2020, the month began on either April 24 or 25, depending on when the hilal was sighted in each country.


The daily fast takes place from dawn until sunset. Before dawn, Muslims have a small meal known as suhoor to help them through the day. To break the fast at iftar, which takes place when the sun has set, it is recommended practice to eat a date, drink water and have a small, warm meal. Traditionally, many Muslims spend large portions of the day cooking and preparing big feasts for family and friends. However, Islam teaches Muslims not to overindulge and instead to only eat enough to satisfy one’s hunger.

Ramadan is an opportunity for Muslims to strengthen their faith by increasing ibadah (worship). This is done in several ways and includes performing additional prayers known as tarawih, reading the Quran and remembering Allah through supplication.

During the month, people are encouraged to increase their good deeds. Muslims often donate more money to charity during Ramadan than any other. Volunteering is common and ranges from organizing community iftars and cooking food for the homeless to spending time with the elderly and lending a helping hand to whoever needs it.

Despite the long fasts, the daily routine of Muslims should not change. This means people continue to work, go to school and run errands.


Eid al-Fitr marks the end of Ramadan and takes place on the first day of the month of Shawwal. It is prohibited to fast on this day. Eid is a time for families and friends to gather together and celebrate and to thank Allah for the successful completion of fasting.

On Eid al-Fitr, Muslims attend communal prayers, wear their best clothes and bake cookies. Before the end of Ramadan, it is compulsory for Muslims to donate a set amount of money to those in need. This is known as zakat al-fitr.


Written and Produced by Kholoud Khalifa & Abul-Hasanat Siddique; Researched by Naveed Ahsan & Samantha Mendiguren; Edited by Anna Pivovarchuk & Atul Singh; Images courtesy of Shutterstock ©.

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