Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. A foundational pillar of practicing Islam is fasting during the month of Ramadan. This devotional act is observed by over a billion Muslims worldwide today. Fasting is a major act of worship, and it is a powerful means of cultivating God-consciousness in the heart and mind. Fasting has both physical and spiritual benefits, including purifying the soul, inspiring self-reflection, and increasing empathy and good works.

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, which follows the lunar system. As a natural phenomenon, lunar months vary in length, containing either 29 or 30 days. This means that the lunar year is 10 or 11 days shorter than the solar year, since months in the solar year often have 31 days. Ultimately, this means that those measuring against the solar calendar will perceive Ramadan as “shifting” a few days earlier each Gregorian year.

In 2024, Ramadan will begin around March 11th and end around April 9th. The exact days are confirmed by the sighting of the new moon at the start of the month.

God says in the Qur’an,

Ramadan is the month in which the Qur’an was revealed, as guidance for humanity…so whoever of you witnesses the month should fast it.”  [2:185]

Muslims therefore celebrate Ramadan by ritually fasting for the entire month in gratitude to God for His final revelation. By restricting the body’s appetites during daylight hours, believers rejuvenate their spirituality, repair their religious conscience, and cultivate their devotion to God. This is the most significant objective of the fast: restoring the centrality of God in our lives.

Muslims observe Ramadan by abstaining from food, drink, smoking, and sexual intimacy—all out of devotion to their Creator. They are also called to practice self-restraint and respond to every situation with patience and kindness. The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ informed us,

“Whoever does not give up lying and acting dishonestly, then [know that] God has no need for this person to give up food and drink (i.e., fasting).” [Sahih al-Bukhari #1903]

In addition to fasting, Muslims also celebrate Ramadan by reciting and studying the Qur’an, performing acts of service, and giving to charity. Many people read the Qur’an cover to cover multiple times over the course of the month. Believers complete their readings individually and in nightly congregations that take place in virtually every mosque on the planet. This is all in emulation of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, who would annually rehearse with the archangel Gabriel all that had been revealed to him of the Qur’an.

Muslims fast for the entire month in gratitude to God for His final revelation. By restricting the body’s appetites during daylight hours, believers rejuvenate their spirituality, repair their religious conscience, and cultivate their devotion to God. This is the most significant objective of the fast: restoring the centrality of God in our lives.

Ramadan is a period of practicing extra awareness about all the things that could soil our spirituality and fuel the ego that feeds off our catering to its appetites throughout the year. Vices are always forbidden, but we work with even greater dedication to avoid them and excel in devotion, kindness, patience, and forgiveness in Ramadan. Such inner purity is the intended result of fasting.

Healthy adult Muslims fast from before sunrise to sunset. During this time, Muslims cannot drink (even water), eat, smoke, or be sexually intimate, out of devotion to God.

All healthy, able-bodied, and of-age Muslims must observe and fast the month of Ramadan. However there are exception such as children who have not reached puberty. In addition travelers, pregnant or nursing women, or those who are sick and are unable to are not required to fast but must make up the fast later on.

Yes. Islam has a merciful and pragmatic legal framework that allows many exceptions to the rules. The categories of people exempted from fasting are an excellent example of that.

Children who haven’t reached the age of puberty are not required to fast, although some like to practice and participate in Ramadan activities. Pregnant women and nursing mothers who struggle to fast, as well as those who are traveling, are allowed to break their fast and make up for the days they missed in Ramadan later on in the year. In addition, women experiencing menses are allowed to rest from the five daily prayers and from fasting.

Muslims maintain the standard five daily prayers, but strive to increase the amount of worship they perform during Ramadan.

In addition to the five daily prayers, many Muslims perform extra nightly prayers called Taraweeh and additional forms of worship such as tahajjud, itikaf, and an increase in reading the Qur’an.

Taraweeh are additional prayers performed nightly during Ramadan. They are optional prayers. Taraweeh is prayed in sets of two rakats each, in the same way Muslims pray the standard salah (prayers). Most mosques around the world hold Taraweeh prayers, providing each community with a chance to listen and reflect on the recitation of the Qur’an behind an expert reciter throughout the blessed month.

Laylatul Qadr can be translated as The Night of Decree or The Night of Power.

In the context of this holy night, some scholars define “qadr” as “decree” (qadar). In other words, it is the night in which the destiny of each person–their sustenance, lifespan, and other critical matters–is decided and sealed for the coming year.

Other scholars define “qadr” as “power,” indicating the greatness of the night. Similarly, some who interpret “qadr as “power” do so to bring attention to the fact that righteous deeds performed during this night are far more powerful than they would be on any other night.

Laylatul Qadr, often translated as “The Night of Power,” has a number of significant attributes. Most importantly, the Qur’an was revealed in its entirety on this night.

Laylatul Qadr has also been described as a gift for the Prophet Muhammad’s community. There is a hadith that states: 

“The Messenger of Allah…was shown the lifespans of the people (who had gone) before him, or what Allah willed of that, and it was as if the lives of the people of his community had become too short for them to be able to do as many good actions as others before them had been able to do with their long lives, so Allah gave him Laylat al-Qadr, which is better than a thousand months.”

The precise night on which Laylatul Qadr occurs has not been mentioned. 

The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said,

“Search for Laylatul Qadr in the odd nights of the last 10 nights of Ramadan.”

There is tremendous wisdom in not knowing exactly when it occurs. As Ibn Qudamah al-Maqdisi (d. 620 AH/1223 CE) writes, “God has concealed this night from the Muslim community (ummah) so that they may strive in seeking it and performing worship throughout the month in the hopes of catching it.

Muslims focus on increasing all of their good actions during the holy month, but particularly increase their generosity through making donations, helping the needy, serving the hungry, and paying a mandatory charity (Zakat al-Fitr) to the poor before the end of Ramadan. This spirit of giving comes from the sympathy we feel for those who have less when we experience hunger and deprivation ourselves, and also from deepening our relationship with God’s word, and understanding the vast mercy and generosity inherent in the nature of God. It is authentically reported that,

“The Prophet ﷺ was the most generous of all the people, and he used to become even more generous in Ramadan.” [Sahih al-Bukhari #3554]

Zakat al-Fitr is a donation made before Eid al-Fitr. It ensures that even those who don’t have much are able to eat and celebrate during the holiday.

Eid al-Fitr occurs at the end of Ramadan. After an entire month of fasting and extra prayer, Muslims are sad to bid Ramadan and its spiritual atmosphere good-bye, but also excited to celebrate their efforts with a holiday.

The festivities begin early on Eid day with the traditional takbeerat and communal prayers. Celebrants show up in their loveliest clothing to pray together, embrace all of their friends, and wish each other “Eid Mubarak” (Blessed Eid). After the Eid prayer, specific ways of celebrating vary across a plethora of Muslim cultures, but whether it’s knafeh or donuts, you can be sure that there will be lots of feasting on delicious foods, exchanging gifts, and quality time spent together with family and community.

In 2024, Eid al-Fitr will take place on April 10th. This date is tentative until the sighting of the new moon at the start of the month.

What Islam Says About...

Basics of Islam

What is Islam and who are Muslims? This section covers some of the basic questions asked about Islam and pillars that define the faith.

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