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(rämädän`, răm'ədän`), in IslamIslam
, [Arab.,=submission to God], world religion founded by the Prophet Muhammad. Founded in the 7th cent., Islam is the youngest of the three monotheistic world religions (with Judaism and Christianity). An adherent to Islam is a Muslim [Arab.,=one who submits].
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, the ninth month of the Muslim year, during which all Muslims must fast during the daylight hours. Indulgence of any sort is forbidden during the fast. There are only a few who are exempt, e.g., soldiers, the sick, and the young. Because of the purely lunar calendar, Ramadan falls in different seasons. The final day of Ramadan, Id al-Fitr, is celebrated by a day of feasting. The first revelation of the Qur'an is commemorated in this month.


Type of Holiday: Religious (Muslim)
Date of Observation: Ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar
Where Celebrated: Africa, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Thailand, Turkey, and throughout the Muslim world
Symbols and Customs: Fasting, Five Pillars, Iftar, New Moon, Sahur
Related Holidays: Hajj, Id al-Fitr, Laylat al Bara'ah, Laylat al-Qadr


Ramadan, a significant period of fasting, reflection, and prayer for all Muslims, is a holiday in the religious tradition of Islam, one of the world's largest religions. According to some estimates, there are more than one billion Muslims worldwide, with major populations found in the Middle East, North and sub-Saharan Africa, Turkey, Central Asia, and Southeast Asia. In Europe and the United States, Islam is the second largest religious group, with some seven million adherents in the United States. During the early years of Islam, the faith spread throughout the Arabian Peninsula into regions that are today occupied by Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq, and Jordan. Contrary to popular opinion, however, Muslims are not just Arabs. Muslims-followers of Islam-are found in many different ethnic groups all over the globe. In fact, Arabs make up less than twenty percent of Muslims.

The word Islam is an Arabic word that means "surrender to God." Its other meanings include peace, safety, and health. The central focus of Islam is a personal commitment and surrender to Allah, the Arabic word for God. In Islam, the concept of Allah is universal and eternal. Allah is the same in every religion and throughout the history of humankind. A person who follows Islam is called a Muslim, which means one who surrenders or submits to Allah's will. But Islam is not just a religion of belief; it is a religion of action. Five specific deeds are required of followers; these are called The Five Pillars of Islam. They are 1) Sha- hadah-confession of faith; 2) Salat-prayer/worship; 3) Zakat-charity; 4) Sawm- fasting; and 5) Hajj-pilgrimage.

The message of Islam was brought by Muhammad (570-632 C . E .), who is considered a prophet of Allah. The holy book of Islam is the Qur'an (also sometimes spelled Koran or Alcoran). According to Islamic belief, the Qur'an was revealed to Muhammad by Allah over a period of twenty-three years. Authorship of the Qur'an is attributed to Allah, and not to Muhammad; Muhammad merely received it. Muslims believe that because it originated with Allah, the Qur'an is infallible.

There are two main sects within Islam: Sunni and Shi'ite. Sunni Muslims are the majority (estimated at about eighty percent). They recognize the authority of the first four Caliphs, including Ali, and they believe that the Sunna (the example of the Prophet Muhammad) is interpreted through the consensus of the community. Shi'ite Muslims also look to special teachers, called imams. The imams are the direct descendants of Muhammad through Fatimah and Ali. These individuals are believed to be inspired and to possess secret knowledge. Shi'ites, however, do not recognize the same line of Islamic leaders acknowledged by the Sunnis. Shi'ites hold to a doctrine that accepts only leaders who are descended from Muhammad through his daughter Fatimah and her husband Ali. Many Shi'ite subsects believe that true imams are errorless and sinless. They receive instruction from these leaders rather than relying on the consensus of the community.

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic year, and it marks the anniversary of more than one significant event. It was during Ramadan that the Qur'an was first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (see LAYLAT AL-QADR). According to legend, as Muhammad sat alone in the wilderness, the angel Gabriel came to him with a golden tablet in his hands and told the Prophet to read what was written on it. This was the essence of the Qur'an, just as the Tablets of the Law received by Moses on Mount Sinai were the essence of the Old Testament. The Battle of Badr- the first battle between the idol worshippers of Mecca and the Muslims of Medina-also occurred during Ramadan, resulting in a glorious victory for the Muslims.

FASTING during the holy month of Ramadan is one of the FIVE PILLARS or requirements of the Islamic faith. It begins with the sighting of the NEW MOON , usually on the 28th day of the previous month. In many Islamic countries, the start of Ramadan is announced with the firing of a gun or cannon on the eve of the first day, since the Islamic "day" begins at sunset. Cannon fire is also used to signal the beginning and end of each day's fast. The morning hours are typically spent reciting the Qur'an, while the remainder of the day is spent sleeping, reading, and praying. As sunset approaches, Muslims gather in the mosque to chant the Qur'an and pray. When the gun announcing the end of the fast is fired, they return home to eat. It is compulsory for every Muslim over the age of twelve to observe the fast. Children learn to fast by doing so gradually, until they are old enough to do so without injuring their health.

Because the Islamic calendar is lunar, the observation of Ramadan moves through the year, eventually occurring in each of the seasons. When it falls at the height of summer, the fast is even more difficult to observe. The days can be nearly sixteen hours long, and although Muslims are permitted to hold water in their mouths for a moment, they cannot drink any until the sun goes down.

Like the Christian LENT or the period between ROSH HASHANAH and YOM KIPPUR for Jews, Ramadan is a time for self-examination and increased religious devotion. The fast ends when the new moon is again sighted and the month of Shawwal begins. It is followed by the ID AL-FITR, the Festival of Breaking Fast, which lasts for three days and is marked by feasting and the exchange of gifts.



The rules regarding the Ramadan fast are very stringent. No food or drink is permitted between sunrise and sunset; kissing, smoking, bathing, sexual intercourse, and receiving injections are forbidden as well. Some Muslims even try to avoid swallowing their saliva or opening their mouths more than is absolutely necessary to draw in fresh air. Only travelers, mothers with young babies, young children, the aged, and those who are very ill are excused from the requirements of the fast. Menstruating women are also exempt, but they must make up for the lost fast days at some point during the year. The same rule applies to days lost for health or travel reasons.

While the days are spent fasting, each night the fast is broken with a feast. It is customary to begin with a white soup made of wheat broiled in meat broth. This is followed later by a regular dinner of meat, rice, and vegetables. The rule is that when it becomes light enough outside to distinguish a white thread from a black one, the fast must be resumed. Muslims believe that whoever observes the fast faithfully and with pure intentions will have his or her sins forgiven. Fasting during Ramadan is said to be thirty times more effective than doing so at any other time of year.

The purpose of fasting is to teach the self-discipline that is needed to prepare for the suffering that Muslims may have to face in the course of obeying their God. It is also a powerful means of defeating Satan, because the passions that are Satan's weapons are strengthened by eating and drinking. Finally, fasting is a communal experience that makes everyone more aware of what it is like to feel hunger.

According to the Prophet, there are five things that will undo the good that has been acquired through fasting: telling a lie, denouncing someone behind his or her back, slander, a false oath, and greed or covetousness.

Five Pillars

The Five Pillars of Islam are the fundamental tenets or requirements that are accepted by all branches of the Muslim faith. They are as follows:

(1) Shahadah: The duty to recite the creed of Islam: "There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is His Prophet." (2) Salat: The duty to worship God with prayer five times each day. (3) Zakat: The duty to be charitable, to distribute alms, and to help the needy. (4) Sawm: The observance of the Fast of Ramadan. (5) Hajj: The duty to make a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in a lifetime.

Fasting during Ramadan is the Fourth Pillar, although the first two Pillars are considered the most essential (i.e., no one who disregards them can be considered a Muslim).


When the fast ends at sunset each day during Ramadan, the meal that is taken to break the fast is called iftar. It is a happy occasion in most Muslim families. Foods that have been prepared at home or purchased at the market are spread out on a table while everyone sits around and waits for the sun to go down. The timing of iftar is usually announced on radio and television, but the old tradition is to listen for the call from the minarets of the mosque. Muslims usually break their fast by first eating a date or taking a drink of water-in imitation of the Prophet, who broke his fast in a similar manner.

New Moon

The Islamic calendar is lunar, which means that each month begins with the appearance of the new moon. In Muslim countries, everyone comes out of the house to see the new moon of Ramadan. Many climb up on their roofs or go to the tops of nearby hills to get a better view. Once the new moon has been sighted, everyone congratulates each other and hurries back inside to prepare for the early morning meal (see SAHUR ).

If the weather is cloudy and the moon is difficult to see, Islamic countries broadcast the news of its sighting. Once the appearance of the new moon is confirmed by at least two people, the news is announced on radio and television. Before these means of communication were invented, it was traditionally announced by firing a cannon.


The sahur is a meal taken just before dawn and the start of the day's fast during the month of Ramadan. In cities and towns, many people walk through the streets in the early morning hours, beating drums and playing flutes or calling out to let people know that it is time to partake of the pre-dawn meal.

If Ramadan falls during the winter, when the nights are long and people have plenty of time to rest, sahur is a full meal. But on short summer nights, because of the limited amount of time between IFTAR and sahur, the early morning meal is very light and simple. After it is over, everyone prepares for morning prayer, worshipping either at the mosque or at home.


Ahsan, M.M. Muslim Festivals. Vero Beach, FL: Rourke Enterprises, 1987. Bellenir, Karen. Religious Holidays and Calendars. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2004. Crim, Keith R. The Perennial Dictionary of World Religions. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1989. Gaer, Joseph. Holidays Around the World. Boston: Little, Brown, 1953. Glassé, Cyril. The Concise Encyclopedia of Islam. 2nd ed. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1999. Gulevich, Tanya. Understanding Islam and Muslim Traditions. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2004. Henderson, Helene, ed. Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2005. Pike, Royston. Round the Year with the World's Religions. 1950. Reprint. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1992. Von Grunebaum, Gustave E. Muhammadan Festivals. New York: Schuman, 1951.


BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/islam/practices/ramadan_1.shtml

IslamiCity www.islamicity.com/ramadan



the ninth month of the Muslim lunar calendar (hijra). According to Islamic dogma, it is the month in which the Koran was “bestowed” on man. Muslims must fast during Ramadan.


Ninth month of the Islamic year
The month of Ramadan traditionally begins with the actual sighting of the new moon, marking the start of the ninth month in the Islamic lunar calendar. Authorities in Saudi Arabia are relied upon for this official sighting. With the exception of children, the sick, and the very old, devout Muslims abstain from food, drink, smoking, sex, and gambling from sunrise to sunset during this period.
This holiest season in the Islamic year commemorates the time when the Qur'an, the Islamic holy book, is said to have been revealed to Muhammad. This occurred on Laylat al-Qadr, one of the last 10 nights of the month. Fasting during the month of Ramadan is one of the Five Pillars (fundamental religious duties) of Islam. It is a time for self-examination and increased religious devotion—similar to the Jewish period from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur and the Christian Lent.
Many West Africans have a two-day carnival, similar to Shrove Tuesday, before Ramadan starts.
Because it is based on the Islamic lunar calendar, which does not use intercalated days to stay aligned with the solar calendar's seasons, Ramadan moves through the year, occurring in each of the seasons over time.
The Fast of Ramadan ends when the new moon is again sighted and the new lunar month begins. It is followed by the Id al-Fitr, Festival of Breaking Fast, which lasts for three days and is marked by feasting and the exchange of gifts.
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holy month of the Muslim year. [Islamic Religion: Brewer Dictionary, 747]


, Rhamadhan, Ramazan
1. the ninth month of the Muslim year, lasting 30 days, during which strict fasting is observed from sunrise to sunset
2. the fast itself
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