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What is Ramadan?

PUBLISHED: 10:00 05 May 2019

Picture: Open Licence.

Picture: Open Licence.

Open Licence

Most of the 1.8 billion Muslims around the world will begin a month-long fast on Sunday, May 5. But what is Ramadan? And why is it so important for Muslims?

Ramadan is the ninth and holiest month of the year in the Muslim calendar. It is when an angel revealed to the prophet Mohamed the first verses of what would become the Quran.

People observing Ramadan don't eat or drink from sunrise until sunset to focus more on spiritual needs.

This abstinence also includes not smoking and not engaging in sexual activity.

A day during Ramadan for Muslims begins with a big pre-dawn meal full of healthy food to get them through the day. They then perform the day's first prayer before sunrise.

At the same time as fasting, Muslims are to go about their normal day to school or work. More prayer and intense study of the Quran are both things that Muslims do during the month.

They maintain the fast until the evening call to prayer, the fast is broken with a light meal before the prayer itself.

Later in the evening there is a larger meal, often at friends' and family's houses. Then it's to bed before waking up before dawn to start again the next day.

The fasting is meant to help Muslims feel the struggle that people living in poverty experience every day.

Charity is one of the five pillars of Islam and is often heightened during Ramadan (itself also one of the five pillars).

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“It's about coming closer to your creator and understanding and sharing, caring and being more conscious of what's going on around you. It's a spiritually uplifting experience,” said Idris Ibrahim, the general secretary at Quwwatul Islam Mosque in Forest Gate.

“In my own household, it's [a feeling of] excitement.

“All-year-round, a lot of people spend too much time around food. And then, when you haven't got that, you've got so much more time.

“When you've got that time, you tend to use it for things that with benefit yourself and people around you – whether its giving to charity or caring or doing something positive in the community.”

Mr Ibrahim said the increased flurry of activity at mosques during Ramadan means it is one of the best times to visit them (though as a place of worship let someone know you're visiting when you get there).

Fasting is compulsory for Muslims, but exceptions are made for people who might find it harder than others.

People who are ill, pregnant or travelling can are all allowed to eat during the day.

At the end of Ramadan and its 30 days of fasting, Muslims celebrate with Eid – a time for big meals and gift-giving with family and friends.

As Ramadan is based on the Islamic calendar, which follows lunar cycles, the date of Ramadan goes back by around 10 days every year.

The shorter days of winter make fasting during daylight easier, while longer days in the spring and summer months makes it harder.

This year, Ramadan ends Thursday, June 4.

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