What is Ramadan?

The Islamic holy month of Ramadan begins on Monday, August 1st, 2011.  This holiday is a month long event commemorating the revelation of the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad (phuh – this abbreviation means peace be upon him and will often be found following the name of a Prophet when written in English- you may alternately see saws which is the Arabic abbreviation for the same thing).  The Islamic calendar is lunar and Ramadan is the 9th month, but because of its’ lunar calculations the date shifts yearly.  Ramadan is celebrated for 29-30 days, again depending on the moon sighting.

During this month observant Muslims fast from sunup to sundown.  Fasting is not simply from food but from drinking any liquid, no smoking and no sexual intercourse during daylight hours. This strict fasting is intended to cleanse the body spiritually and bring each person closer to Allah (God), as well as a reminder to those of us with plenty to remember others who are in need around the world.  It is required of every Muslim who has reached puberty to fast.  Children, pregnant or breast-feeding women, the elderly, sick, and persons who are traveling are exempt from fasting.

The day starts very early with a meal called suhoor before the sun rises and fajr prayer begins (the very early morning prayer).  Because Ramadan is falling in August this year this meal will occur before 4am in many parts of the US!  At the end of the day the fast is broken with a small meal called iftar.  Traditionally the fast is broken with dates, water, and some type of soup however this varies by country, culture and family tradition.

Muslims pray two sets of prayers after the fast ends; Maghreb immediately following iftar and Isha later in the evening.  A special prayer service called tahraweh also occurs in the evening.  Each night a portion of the Quran is recited in tandem with praying.  At the end of the month of tahraweh the entire Quran will have been recited.

In Muslim majority countries schedules are shifted during this month, with work hours cut back and many shops shuttered during the day.  With the majority of activity occurring at night many people spend portions of the day at rest.  This presents a problem for Muslims in the West who want to uphold their religious duty but live in a society that does not recognize or accommodate a month of fasting.

Watch for more posts from me throughout the month focusing on different aspects of Ramadan!

If you have questions, I would love to answer them.  You can leave them in the comments or join me tonight (Monday, August 1st) for a LIVE Tweetchat on Twitter.  I’ll be talking about Ramadan and responding to questions from 7pm-8pm EST.



  1. says

    Thank you for sharing this knowledge, Amanda! I learned a lot from reading this post that I did not know, and now I have questions about things. There are many American-Muslim athletes who are expected to continue in their sports during Ramadan. In the heat of summer, what do they do? What about outdoor workers? In a Muslim-majority country, these probably aren't issues, right? 

    • says

      Jen – great questions!  There have been stories about American – Muslim athletes who still train and participate while fasting though may need to modify a little bit. For most of us living in the West life goes on just like anyone else.  If you work a very physical job or have other limitations you can sort of "make up" for fasting by donating money to feed the poor.  In Muslim majority countries work and social life is very modified during Ramadan so most of these things don't become issues.