Ramadan Primer: What is Ramadan Anyway?

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Ramadan is one of the most spiritual times of year for Muslims. If you or your child have a Muslim friend, you may have heard of Ramadan, but not know much about it. Here are some quick facts about Ramadan to help!

A great overview of Ramadan - perfect for explaining it to your kids.

When is Ramadan?

Ramadan is one of the months in the Islamic calendar. The Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar, where months coincide with moon cycles. Ramadan is the 9th month in the lunar calendar. This year it is expected to start June 18th, 2015 and end July 17th, 2015. Because it’s a lunar calendar, the dates are approximate. The lunar calendar means that the days will move back 10 days each year. Last year, Ramadan began on June 28th. Next year, it will start around June 8th.

What is the significance of Ramadan?

Ramadan is a very spiritual month for Muslims. It is thought that the Quran, Muslims’ holy book, was revealed to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) during this month in 610 AD. During this time, Muslims take this opportunity to step back from their usual routines and focus on spiritual growth and charitable works.   This includes fasting, spending more time reading the Quran, and charity.

What is fasting in Islam?

Fasting is one of the five pillars, or foundational elements, of Islam. While Muslims, Jews and Catholics all have aspects of fasting in their faiths, they are all defined differently. In Islam, fasting includes abstaining from food, drink, smoking, sexual relations, and negative actions. This is a method of self-purification by cutting oneself off from worldly comforts and gaining true sympathy for those less fortunate.  It is important to note that fasting is not just refraining from food and drink but also striving to be a better person. Muhammad (peace be upon him) reportedly said, “He who does not abandon falsehood in word and action in accordance with fasting, God has no need that he should abandon his food and drink.”

Who is fasting for?

Muslim adults who are healthy are obligated to fast from dawn (just before Fajr, the morning prayer) to sunset (at Maghrib, the evening prayer). Traditionally, Muslims wake up before dawn to eat and then eat again at sunset.  Children are not expected to fast, though some may be excited about seeing those around them fasting and join in! Many kids start with half-day fasts on the weekend. This allows them to feel the spirit of Ramadan without compromising their development.

Similarly, those who are elderly and frail, or ill, pregnant, breastfeeding and children are not obligated to fast. When a woman is on her menses, she is not to fast. People who miss fasts either make up the fasts at another time in the year or pay to feed a poor person for each day they missed.

What else happens during Ramadan?

The last ten days of Ramadan are especially pious. Some people spend extra time in the mosque (Islamic house of worship) for prayers during this time, even spending the night. The night of power (Lailat-ul-Qadr) is believed to be the night when the Quran was revealed and Muslims will take special care to perform extra prayers and do good deeds that night. Because it is believed that good deeds are magnified during this time, some people choose to give charity at this time. Sometime during the month, each Muslim who is able gives a food donation to the poor, known as zakat-ul-fitr.

When is Ramadan over?

Ramadan lasts either 29 or 30 days, depending on moon cycles. At the end of the month of Ramadan, a new month, the month of Shawwal, begins. The holiday associated with this is Eid-ul-Fitr. On this day, Muslims congregate to pray. The services consist of a short sermon and congregational prayer. After this, people visit family and friends and celebrate the completion of a month of blessings. Children are traditionally given gifts as well. In Muslim countries, the first three days of the month are official holidays. In the US, most people take off the day of Eid-ul-Fitr itself. Eid greetings are Happy Eid, Eid Mubarak, or Eid Kareem.

Ramadan is a time for Muslims to take a step back from everyday life and focus on spiritual aspects. While fasting is the most well-known part of Ramadan, that is just one aspect of this blessed month. Ramadan Mubarak!

For more information:

If you’re interested in learning more about Islam and about Ramadan, here are some resources:





Some books for kids about Ramadan:






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