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A crescent moon can be seen over palm trees at Manama, marking the beginning of the Islamic month of Ramadan in Bahrain
Observed by Muslims
Type Religious
Celebrations Community iftars and Community prayers
Begins At the last night of the month of Sha'ban[1]
Ends At the last night of the month of Ramadan[1]
Date Variable (follows the Islamic lunar calendar)
2018 date 17 May – 14 June[2]
2019 date evening of 5 May (4 May for Mali; 6 May for Australia, Bangladesh, Brunei Darussalam, India, Iran, Morocco, Nepal, Oman, Pakistan, South Africa and Sri Lanka)[3] – 3 June (expected)[2]
Frequency every year (lunar calendar)
Related to Eid al-Fitr, Laylat al-Qadr

Ramadan (/ˌræməˈdɑːn/, also US: /ˌrɑːm-, ˈræmədɑːn, ˈrɑːm-/,[5][6][7] UK: /ˈræmədæn/;[8] Arabic: رمضان‎, romanizedRamaḍān [ramaˈdˤaːn];[note 1] Ramazan, Ramzan, Ramadhan, or Ramathan) is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar,[9] observed by Muslims worldwide as a month of fasting (sawm), prayer, reflection and community.[10] A commemoration of the first revelation of the Quran to Muhammad,[11] the annual observance of Ramadan is regarded as one of the Five Pillars of Islam[12] and lasts twenty-nine to thirty days, from one visual sighting of the crescent moon to the next.[13][14]

The word Ramadan derives from the Arabic root ramiḍa or ar-ramaḍ ("scorching heat" or "dryness").[15] Fasting is fard (obligatory) for adult Muslims, except those who are ill, travelling, elderly, pregnant, breastfeeding, diabetic, chronically ill, or menstruating.[16] Although fatwas have been issued declaring that Muslims who live in regions with a midnight sun or polar night should follow the timetable of Mecca,[17] the more commonly accepted opinion is that they should instead follow the timetable of the closest country to them in which night can be distinguished from day.[18][19][20]

While fasting from dawn until sunset, believers refrain from food, drink, smoking, sexual relations, and sinful behavior that may negate the reward of fasting,[21][22] striving to purify themselves and increase their taqwa (good deeds and God-consciousness). The predawn meal is referred to as suhoor, while the nightly feasts to break the fast is called iftar.[23][24] Spiritual rewards (thawab) for fasting are believed to be multiplied during the month of Ramadan,[25] when believers devote themselves to salat (prayer), recitation of the Quran[26][27] and the performance of charitable deeds.


Chapter 2, Verse 185 in Arabic.

Chapter 2, Verse 185, of the Quran states:

The month of Ramadan is that in which was revealed the Quran; a guidance for mankind, and clear proofs of the guidance, and the criterion (of right and wrong). And whosoever of you is present, let him fast the month, and whosoever of you is sick or on a journey, a number of other days. Allah desires for you ease; He desires not hardship for you; and that you should complete the period, and that you should magnify Allah for having guided you, and that perhaps you may be thankful.[Quran 2:185]

Muslims hold that the Quran was first revealed to Muhammad during the month of Ramadan on Laylat al-Qadr (the night of power), one of the five odd-numbered nights of the last ten days of Ramadan.[28] According to hadith, all holy scriptures were sent down during Ramadan, the tablets of Ibrahim, the Torah, the Psalms, the Gospel and the Quran being revealed on first, sixth, twelfth, thirteenth[note 2] and twenty-fourth Ramadans, respectively.[29]

According to the Quran, fasting was obligatory for prior nations as a way to attain taqwa (fear of God).[30][Quran 2:183] God proclaimed to Muhammad that fasting for His sake was not a new innovation in monotheism but rather an obligation practiced by those devoted to the oneness of God.[31] The pagans of Mecca fasted on the tenth day of Muharram to expiate sins and avoid droughts.[32]

The ruling to observe fasting during Ramadan was sent down eighteen months after Hijra, during the month of Sha'ban in the second year of Hijra (624 CE).[29]

Around 747 CE, Abu Zanad wrote that at least one Mandaean community in al-Jazira (modern northern Iraq) observed Ramadan before converting to Islam.[33][not in citation given]

According to historian Philip Jenkins, Ramadan comes "from the strict Lenten discipline of the Syrian Churches", a postulation corroborated by other scholars, such as theologian Paul-Gordon Chandler,[34][35] and based on the idea that the Quran has Syriac Christian origins, a claim to which some Muslim academics object.[36]

Important dates

The first and last dates of Ramadan are determined by the lunar Islamic calendar.


Ramadan beginning dates between Gregorian years 1938 and 2038.

Hilāl (the crescent) typically occurs a day (or more) after the astronomical new moon. Since the new moon marks the beginning of the new month, Muslims can usually safely estimate the beginning of Ramadan,[37] although many recommend that visual confirmation be performed by region.[38]

Night of Power

Laylat al-Qadr ("the night of power" or "the night of decree"), the night on which Muslims believe the first revelation of the Quran was sent down to Muhammad, is considered the holiest night of the year.[39][40] It is generally believed to have occurred on an odd-numbered night during the last ten days of Ramadan; the Dawoodi Bohra believe that Laylat al-Qadr was the twenty-third night of Ramadan.[41][42]


The holiday of Eid al-Fitr (Arabic:عيد الفطر), which marks the end of Ramadan and the beginning of Shawwal, the next lunar month, is declared after a crescent new moon has been sighted or after completion of thirty days of fasting if no visual sighting is possible due to weather conditions. It is a celebration of the return to a more natural disposition (fitra) of eating, drinking, and intimacy with spouses.[43]

Religious practices

Azim Azimzade. Ramadan of the poor people. 1938

The common practice is to fast from dawn to sunset. The pre-dawn meal before the fast is called the suhur, while the meal at sunset that breaks the fast is the iftar.

Muslims also engage in increased prayer and charity during Ramadan. Ramadan is also a month where Muslims try to practice increased self-discipline. This is motivated by the Hadith, especially in Al-Bukhari[44][45] that "When Ramadan arrives, the gates of Paradise are opened and the gates of hell are locked up and devils are put in chains."[46]


Ramadan is a time of spiritual reflection, improvement and increased devotion and worship. Muslims are expected to put more effort into following the teachings of Islam. The fast (sawm) begins at dawn and ends at sunset. In addition to abstaining from eating and drinking during this time, Muslims also increase restraint, such as abstaining from sexual relations[4] and generally sinful speech and behaviour. The act of fasting is said to redirect the heart away from worldly activities, its purpose being to cleanse the soul by freeing it from harmful impurities. Ramadan also teaches Muslims how to better practice self-discipline, self-control,[47] sacrifice, and empathy for those who are less fortunate; thus encouraging actions of generosity and compulsory charity (zakat).[48]

Exemptions to fasting are travel, menstruation, severe illness, pregnancy, and breastfeeding. However, many Muslims with medical conditions insist on fasting to satisfy their spiritual needs, although it is not recommended by the hadith. Professionals should closely monitor such individuals who decide to persist with fasting.[49] Those who were unable to fast still must make up the days missed later.[50]

Each day, before dawn, Muslims observe a pre-fast meal called the suhoor. After stopping a short time before dawn, Muslims begin the first prayer of the day, Fajr.[51][52]

At sunset, families hasten for the fast-breaking meal known as iftar. Dates are usually the first food to break the fast; according to tradition, Muhammad broke fast with three dates. Following that, Muslims generally adjourn for the Maghrib prayer, the fourth of the five daily prayers, after which the main meal is served.[53]

Social gatherings, many times in a buffet style, are frequent at iftar. Traditional dishes are often highlighted, including traditional desserts, and particularly those made only during Ramadan. Water is usually the beverage of choice, but juice and milk are also often available, as are soft drinks and caffeinated beverages.[49]

In the Middle East, the iftar meal consists of water, juices, dates, salads and appetizers, one or more main dishes, and various kinds of desserts. Usually, the dessert is the most important part during iftar. Typical main dishes are lamb stewed with wheat berries, lamb kebabs with grilled vegetables, or roast chicken served with chickpea-studded rice pilaf. A rich dessert, such as luqaimat, baklava or kunafeh (a buttery, syrup-sweetened kadaifi noodle pastry filled with cheese), concludes the meal.[54]

Over time, iftar has grown into banquet festivals. This is a time of fellowship with families, friends and surrounding communities, but may also occupy larger spaces at masjid or banquet halls for 100 or more diners.[55] For example, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, the largest mosque in the UAE, feeds up to 30,000 people at the Grand Mosque location every night for iftar. The iftar is involving around 400 chefs and almost 500 service staff person. The iftar food pack includes dates and yoghurt drink (laban).[56]


Men praying during Ramadan at the Shrine of Ali or "Blue Mosque" in Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan

Charity is very important in Islam, and even more so during Ramadan. Zakāt, often translated as "the poor-rate", is obligatory as one of the pillars of Islam; a fixed percentage of the person's savings is required to be given to the poor. Sadaqah is voluntary charity in giving above and beyond what is required from the obligation of zakāt. In Islam, all good deeds are more handsomely rewarded during Ramadan than in any other month of the year. Consequently, many will choose this time to give a larger portion, if not all, of the zakāt that they are obligated to give. In addition, many will also use this time to give a larger portion of sadaqah in order to maximize the reward that will await them at the Last Judgment.[citation needed]

Nightly prayers

Tarawih (Arabic: تراويح‎) are extra nightly prayers performed during the month of Ramadan. Contrary to popular belief, they are not compulsory.[57]

Recitation of the Quran

In addition to fasting, Muslims are encouraged to read the entire Quran, which comprises thirty juz' (sections). Some Muslims incorporate a recitation of one juz' into each of the thirty tarawih sessions observed during Ramadan.[citation needed]

Cultural practices

In some Islamic countries, lights are strung up in public squares and across city streets,[58][59][60] a tradition believed to have originated during the Fatimid Caliphate, where the rule of Caliph al-Mu'izz li-Din Allah was acclaimed by people holding lanterns.[61]

On the island of Java, many believers bathe in holy springs to prepare for fasting, a ritual known as Padusan.[62] The city of Semarang marks the beginning of Ramadan with the Dugderan carnival, which involves parading the Warak ngendog, a horse-dragon hybrid creature allegedly inspired by the Buraq.[63] In the Chinese-influenced capital city of Jakarta, firecrackers are widely used to celebrate Ramadan, although they are officially illegal.[64] Towards the end of Ramadan, most employees receive a one-month bonus known as Tunjangan Hari Raya.[65] Certain kinds of food are especially popular during Ramadan, such as large beef or buffalo in Aceh and snails in Central Java.[66] The iftar meal is announced every evening by striking the bedug, a giant drum, in the mosque.[67]

Common greetings during Ramadan include Ramadan mubarak and Ramadan kareem.[68]

Observance rates

According to a 2012 Pew Research Centre study, there was widespread Ramadan observance, with a median of 93 percent across the thirty-nine countries and territories studied.[69] Regions with high percentages of fasting among Muslims include Southeast Asia, South Asia, Middle East and North Africa, and most of Sub-Saharan Africa.[69] Percentages are lower in Central Asia and Southeast Europe.[69]


In some Muslim countries, failing to fast during Ramadan is a crime.

II October 2008 the court of Biskra, Algeria, condemned six people to four years' imprisonment and heavy fines.[70]

In Kuwait, the penalty is a fine of no more than one hundred Kuwaiti dinars (about US$330, GB£260 in May 2017) or jail for no more than one month, or both, for those seen eating, drinking or smoking during daytime.[71][72] In some United Arab Emirates jurisdictions, eating or drinking in public is considered a minor offence punishable by up to one hundred fifty hours of community service.[73] Courts in neighbouring Saudi Arabia, described by The Economist as taking Ramadan "more seriously than anywhere else",[74] may impose harsher punishments, including flogging, imprisonment and, for foreigners, deportation.[75][76]

In Malaysia, Muslims who break the fast during daytime are simply arrested by the religious police. People who sell food, drinks, or tobacco to Muslims for immediate consumption can be fined for up to RM1,000 and imprisoned for up to six months, and repeated offenders will have their penalty doubled.[77]

Some countries have laws that amend work schedules during Ramadan. Under UAE labor law, the maximum working hours are to be six hours per day and 36 hours per week. Qatar, Oman, Bahrain and Kuwait have similar laws.[78]

In Egypt, alcohol sales are banned during Ramadan.[79]


Ramadan fasting is safe for healthy people, but those with medical conditions should seek medical advice if they encounter health problems before or during fasting.[80] The fasting period is usually associated with modest weight loss, but weight can return afterwards.[81]

The education departments of Berlin and the United Kingdom have tried to discourage students from fasting during Ramadan, as they claim that not eating or drinking can lead to concentration problems and bad grades.[82][83]

A review of the literature by an Iranian group suggested fasting during Ramadan might produce renal injury in patients with moderate (GFR <60 ml/min) or severe kidney disease but was not injurious to renal transplant patients with good function or most stone-forming patients.[84]

Crime rates

The correlation of Ramadan with crime rates is mixed: some statistics show that crime rates drop during Ramadan, while others show that it increases. Decreases in crime rates have been reported by the police in some cities in Turkey (Istanbul[85] and Konya[86]) and the Eastern province of Saudi Arabia.[87] A 2005 study found that there was a decrease in assault, robbery and alcohol-related crimes during Ramadan in Saudi Arabia, but only the decrease in alcohol-related crimes was statistically significant.[88] Increases in crime rates during Ramadan have been reported in Turkey,[89] Jakarta,[90][91][92] parts of Algeria,[93] Yemen[94] and Egypt.[95]

Various mechanisms have been proposed for the effect of Ramadan on crime:

  • An Iranian cleric argues that fasting during Ramadan makes people less likely to commit crimes due to spiritual reasons.[96] Gamal al-Banna argues that fasting can stress people out, which can make them more likely to commit crimes. He criticized Muslims who commit crimes while fasting during Ramadan as "fake and superficial".[95]
  • Police in Saudi Arabia attributed a drop in crime rates to the "spiritual mood prevalent in the country".[87]
  • In Jakarta, Indonesia, police say that the traffic due to 7 million people leaving the city to celebrate Eid al-Fitr results in an increase in street crime. As a result, police deploy an additional 7,500 personnel.[92]
  • During Ramadan, millions of pilgrims enter Saudi Arabia to visit Mecca. According to the Yemen Times, such pilgrims are usually charitable, and consequently smugglers traffic children in from Yemen to beg on the streets of Saudi Arabia.[94]

Ramadan in polar regions

During 2010 Middle East negotiations in the United States, Hosni Mubarak and Benjamin Netanyahu check their watches to see if the Sun has set.

The length of the dawn to sunset time varies in different parts of the world according to summer or winter solstices of the Sun. Most Muslims fast for eleven to sixteen hours during Ramadan. However, in polar regions, the period between dawn and sunset may exceed twenty-two hours in summer. For example, in 2014, Muslims in Reykjavik, Iceland, and Trondheim, Norway, fasted almost twenty-two hours, while Muslims in Sydney, Australia, fasted for only about eleven hours. In areas characterized by continuous night or day, some Muslims follow the fasting schedule observed in the nearest city that experiences sunrise and sunset, while others follow Mecca time.[18][19][20]

Employment during Ramadan

Muslims continue to work during Ramadan;[citation needed] however, in some Islamic countries, such as Oman and Lebanon, working hours are shortened.[97][98] It is often recommended that working Muslims inform their employers if they are fasting, given the potential for the observance to impact performance at work.[99] The extent to which Ramadan observers are protected by religious accommodation varies by country. Policies putting them at a disadvantage compared to other employees have been met with discrimination claims in the United Kingdom and the United States.[100][101][102]

See also