The start of Ramadan is determined by the sighting of the young crescent Moon in various Muslim countries (Credit: AJLabs/ CC-BY-SA-2.0/Aljazeera)

For the more than a billion Muslims worldwide, there is nothing more sacred than the month of Ramadan, or Ramazan. It was during this ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar that Jibril (the Archangel Gabriel in the Judeo-Christian faith) revealed the first verses of the Quran ‚ÄĒ Islam's holy text ‚ÄĒ to the prophet Muhammad. The auspicious month's start, based on the appearance of the super-slim young crescent Moon, is determined by moon-sighting committees in various Muslim countries, most notably in Saudi Arabia. This year, Ramadan will begin on Monday, April 12th, or Tuesday, April 13th.

The number of hours of fasting depends on where the observers reside (Credit: AJLabs/CC-BY-SA-2.0/Aljazeera)

During Ramadan, healthy adult Muslims and children over 14 abstain from food and drink from dawn to dusk. Fasting during Ramadan, is one of the five pillars ‚ÄĒ or duties ‚ÄĒ of Islam, along with the testimony of faith, prayer, charitable giving, and making a pilgrimage to Mecca. It is believed that the temporary deprivation of sustenance renews awareness and gratitude for everything AllńĀh (God) has provided and revives compassion to help those less fortunate. Observers are also encouraged to rid their minds of negative thoughts and emotions, such as jealousy and anger. Many also eschew or limit leisure activities, such as watching television, in favor of listening to recitations of the Quran.

A typical day during Ramadan

Muslims typically wake up well before dawn to eat their first, and most important, of the two meals consumed during the day. Known as Suhoor, or Suhur, the spread, designed to sustain observers until sunset, comprises a variety of protein-rich traditional dishes, fresh fruits, and vegetables. Following the morning prayers, called Fajr, everyone goes about their daily business, whether that is going to school or work.

An Iftar feast organized by Imam Reza shrine in 2017 (Credit: Tasnim News Agency, CC BY 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons)

Most Muslims break the fast at sunset by eating 1 to 3 dates ‚ÄĒ just as Muhammad did when he broke his own fast ‚ÄĒ and by drinking some water or milk. They then conduct a five to 15-minute long prayer, before settling down for the day's second, more substantial, meal, known as Iftar. The festive meal is usually a communal affair that is enjoyed with extended family members and friends. Many mosques also organize free Iftar gatherings.

The meal is followed by the night prayer called Taraweeh. Derived from the Arabic word meaning “to rest and relax," it is considered a form of Islamic meditation. Usually held at a mosque, Taraweeh prayers involve reading portions of the Quran as well as performing many rakahs (cycles of movement involved in Islamic prayer) and can last up to two hours. Once done, everyone heads home to get some rest before the predawn meal.

Eid al-Fitr

Eid al-Fitr mass prayer in Istiqlal Mosque in Jakarta, Indonesia (Credit: Gunawan Kartapranata/ CC BY-SA 3.0/ Wikimedia Commons)

The fasting period ends when the next New Moon is sighted ‚ÄĒ typically after 29 or 30 days. It is followed by Eid al-Fitr, or ‚Äúfestival of breaking the fast," which, depending on when Ramadan starts, will be commemorated on May 12, 2021, or May 13, 2021. The celebrations, which can last up to 3 days, begin with communal prayers to thank Allah for providing endurance and strength during Ramadan. At about midday, observers, dressed in traditional finery, head to visit family and friends or gather in public venues to enjoy a feast with community members. Eid is akin to Christmas for Muslim children, with many receiving money or gifts from the elders.


Charitable giving, or Zakat, believed to purify one's wealth, is one of Islam's five pillars and, therefore, mandatory. Most Muslims must give a Zakat of 2.5 percent of the wealth accumulated over the previous lunar year. Those who do not meet the minimum wealth threshold, termed "nisab," offer sweet bread and dates instead.

Celebrations amid the coronavirus pandemic

Like 2020, the coronavirus pandemic ‚ÄĒ which has caused most mosques to remain closed‚ÄĒ will disrupt this year's Ramadan observances and upend festive Eid gatherings. But though the celebrations might be subdued, the essence of the centuries-old tradition ‚ÄĒ spiritual reflection, self-improvement, and heightened devotion and worship ‚ÄĒ remain intact.

Ramadan Mubarak!