Did you know that Ramadan is not the name of a fast but is the name of the month when Muslim people fast?
For followers of Islam, Ramadan is the most significant month of the year. It is the month Muslims believe the Qu’ran was first revealed to Muhammad. But within the month there are some especially important dates.
So let’s look at some of them:
1. The start of the fast
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, which is a lunar calendar. This means that the dates of Ramadan change each year. The Islamic lunar calendar is 11 days shorter than the Gregorian calendar. So the dates of Ramadan move backwards by 11 days each year.
At the time of the Prophet Muhammad, the end of one month and the start of the next was based on the sighting of the new crescent moon.
So Ramadan’s start and end dates are uncertain until the new moon is seen. On the 29th day of Shaʿbān, the month before Ramadan, Muslims go out after sunset to look for the new crescent moon in the sky. If they saw this, Ramadan had begun and the fast would start at sunrise. If not, then the month of Shaʿbān lasts an extra day, and Ramadan begins the following day.
This means that Ramadan can start and end at different times in different places. In 1939, Eid al-Aḍḥā, the festival at the end of the fast, was reckoned to be on Monday in Egypt, Tuesday in Saudi Arabia and Wednesday in India.
Today there is a moon sighting committee in Saudi Arabia which decides when Ramadan begins and ends. But most Muslim people will look to their local mosque to signal when to start fasting.
If you have a Muslim friend or neighbor, why not ask them about when they choose to start Ramadan?
2. The Night of Power
Ramadan is the holiest month of the Islamic calendar, but the Night of Power is the holiest night of the year. The night marks when Muslims believe an angel revealed the first part of the Qu’ran to Muhammad.
Many Muslims believe that there are double spiritual rewards on the Night of Power. According to the Hadith, the sayings of Muhammad, the Night of Power is one of the last ten nights of Ramadan. However, the Night of Power’s exact date is unknown.
So they don’t miss the special blessings from the Night of Power, many Muslims will spend all the last ten nights of Ramadan at the mosque.
In these last ten nights of Ramadan, Muslims focus on reading the Qu’ran and prayer. They believe that forgiveness of sin is available to those praying on the Night of Power. One famous Hadith says:
“Whoever prays on Laylatul Qadr out of faith and sincerity, shall have all their past sins forgiven.” (Bukhari and Muslim)
If you have a Muslim friend or neighbor, consider asking them about the Night of Power and what they believe about it.
Eid-al-Fitr means ‘the festival of the breaking of the fast’. It is the celebration that marks the end of Ramadan. Like the start of Ramadan, it falls when the new moon is seen. In some parts of the Philippines, the end of the fast is marked by beating drums. More recently, in cities, this has developed into a ‘Mobile Takbir’ or motorcade where drivers rev their engines and sound their horns.
The three-day festival begins with communal prayer at dawn on the first day. In Southeast Asia, it is traditional to wear new clothes, as a sign of purity and renewal, and to eat special foods, often something sweet – usually a date – on the way to the mosque.
It is also a time for giving Zakat al-Fitr – gifts to the poor. Zakat is another of the five pillars of Islam – the required activities for all Muslims, alongside Sawm, fasting. As Muslims gather to celebrate, they will say a special greeting and ask for forgiveness for any offenses over the last year.
If you have a Muslim friend or neighbor, wish them a happy Eid-al-Fitr.
Taking it further
During Ramadan, we invite you to join us in praying for God to bless the Muslims of East and Southeast Asia through our daily Ramadan prayer guide.
Beyond Ramadan, many Muslim people will try to keep up the good habits formed during Ramadan.
How could you continue to bless your Muslim neighbours or learn more about the Muslims of East and Southeast Asia?
Explore more resources and prayer materials on websites including Prayercast.com, HowtoPrayforMuslims.org, pray30days.org.
OMF International Stories Coordinator
- Ghulam Sarwar, Islam: Beliefs and Teachings (London, 2014), p.73.