If you were to ask me about Ramadan before I started this page, I would have looked at you strangely and asked you what you were talking about. I really had no idea Ramadan existed. I would think that outside of the Islamic community, there aren't too many people who DO know about Ramadan.
Ramadan (the month of Fasting) is celebrated by more than one billion Muslims world-wide. It takes place during the ninth month of the Lunar Year (the Islamic calendar). The first day is usually determined by the sighting of the new moon or by astronomical calculations. The Islamic calendar is 12 months long but has fewer days. Ramadan is a time to reflect on one's spritual life, enjoy being with family, become closer to Allah (God), practice self-control, and give charity. Ramadan is also a time to empathize with those less fortunate.
Ramadan is also special because it is believed to be the month that Allah (God) revealed the Qur'an to his prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him). "Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) has said: 'Oh people! A great month has come over you; a blessed month; a month in which is a night better than a thousand months; month in which Allah has made it compulsory upon you to fast by day, and voluntary to pray by night.' "
According to the Qur'an, everyone must fast. The only exceptions would be: insane people (they would not know why they were fasting and so would negate the purpose), travelers (it would be a hardship for them while moving from place to place), nursing or breatfeeding mothers (but they must make it up later), sick people (they must also make it up later), and the elderly (but they must feed a poor person daily to make up for it).
Fasting takes place from sunrise until sunset ("One may eat and drink at any time during the night 'until you can plainly distinguish a white thread from a black thread by the daylight: then keep the fast until night' " - HOLY QUR'AN) . During this time people must not eat, drink, smoke, or have sexual intercourse. It is a common practice to eat a pre-dawn meal (SUHOOR) and a post-fast meal (IFTAR). The iftar is usually a small meal with family (some follow the practice of Mohammed (peace be upon him) and eat only dates). Then people will go to the Mosque (MASJID) to pray the Night Prayer (AL TARAWEEH). This prayer usually lasts longer than the prayers uttered 5 times daily. After prayers are offered, the people will go back to their homes and have dinner. It is a custom (since everyone eats at the same time) to invite friends in to have a meal with the family.
Moral standards are high in the Islamic faith, but during Ramadan, they are higher still. All of the good that comes from fasting and praying can be negated by telling a lie, greed or covetousness, slander, denouncing someone behind their back, or a false oath. These are all major offenses during the Fast of Ramadan.
The Night of Power or Decree (LAILATUL-QADR) is the first of the last 10 days of Ramadan. " 'Verily! We have sent it (this Qur'aan) down in the Night of Decree (Lailatul-Qadr). And what will make you know what the Night of Decree is? The Night of Decree is better than a thousand months. Therein descend the angels and the Rooh (ie. Jibreel [Gabriel]) by Allaah's Permission with all Decrees, Peace! until the appearance of dawn.' [97:1-5]." "Narrated Ibn Abbas:
It is on the Night of Decree that Allah (God) revealed the first verses of the Qur'an to the Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) and many Muslims will practice I'TIKAF in the MASJID (seclusion in the Mosque). During the last 10 days of Ramadan, they will seclude themselves in the Mosque and pray, read and recite the Qur'an, glorify and praise Allah (God), ask His forgiveness, and send salutations to the Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him).
There are rules governing I'tikaf:
*One can leave the Mosque to do those things not permissable in the Mosque (i.e. use the bathroom, take a bath, change clothes)
*One can leave to get food or drink to take back with them (for those who don't have someone to bring it to them) - they can eat and drink in the Mosque, but must clean up after themselves.
*One cannot leave just because they want to. This negates the I'tikaf
*One cannot have sexual intercourse while in seclusion
As Ramadan ends, it becomes the first day of the month of Shawwal. It is humanly impossible to be perfect and sometime during Ramadan people are bound to do or say something they shouldn't, so Allah (God) gave a way to have forgiveness. On the first day of EID AL-FITR (the Festival of Fast Breaking) and before the EID PRAYER, people will give alms (ZAKAT AL-FITR). Zakat al-fitr has to be given in the form of food and it is given to the poor (so that they will be happy on the day of 'eid also). It is mandatory for every Muslim to give this for himself and for every person he has charge of.
Eid al-Fitr (the Festival of Fast Breaking) is a 3 day celebration that starts on the first day of the month of Shawwal. After the giving of alms (ZAKAT AL-FITR), people dress in holiday attire, gather at the Masjid (Mosque) for a community Eid Prayer, and then visit with family and friends. There may be festivals to celebrate the end of Ramadan in some places and large meals are usually served. Children may be given gifts or money by their parents. People will greet each other in many different ways:
"Atyab at-tihani bi-munasabat hulul shahru Ramadan al-Mubarak" (The most precious congratulations on the occasion of the coming of Ramadan) - Arabic
"Elveda, ey Ramazan" (Farewell, O Ramadan) - Turkish
"Kullu am wa antum bi-khair" (May you be well throughout the year) - Arabic
"'Eid mubarak (A Blessed 'Eid)" - universal
(Sources used - Ramadan On The Net - The Fast of Ramadan, Essentials of Ramadan, The Fasting Month, Who is permitted to break the fast in Ramadhan?, The last ten days of Ramadan, Zakat ul-Fitr, Islamic Holidays and Observances, SAHIH BUKHARI, BOOK 32: Praying at Night in Ramadaan (Taraweeh))
Learn About Hanukkah