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10 Questions And Answers About Ramadan

1) Who celebrates Ramadan?

More than 1 billion Muslims worldwide celebrate Ramadan, including more than 6 million in the United States. Indonesia has the largest Muslim population in the world, with Pakistan, Bangladesh, India and Turkey following. Islam is the fastest-growing religion in America.

2) When is Ramadan?

Ramadan starts at the beginning of the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. Because Islam observes a lunar calendar, the official beginning occurs at different times around the globe, based on when the crescent moon is first seen. The lunar calendar is about 11 days shorter than the solar calendar, and this year Ramadan begins Nov. 16 or Nov. 17, depending where in the world you are. In 2002, it will begin Nov. 6.

3) What is the derivation of "Ramadan"?

Ramadan is derived from the Arabic word ar-ramad, meaning "parched thirst," and is also the name of the ninth month of the lunar calendar.

4) How did Ramadan begin?

In approximately 610 A.D., a caravan trader named Muhammad began wandering the desert near Mecca (in today's Saudi Arabia). The angel Gabriel appeared to him and told him he had been chosen to receive the world of Allah. In the days that followed, Muhammad began speaking and transcribing the words to the Quran (also spelled "Koran"), the sacred book of Islam.

Muslims consider the Quran to be God's literal speech, recorded in the Arabic language, and transmitted through humanity via Muhammad, who is considered the last of a chain of prophets that included Adam, Abraham, Moses, David and Jesus.

5) How is Ramadan celebrated?

Ramadan is a month of heightened devotion, a time that the doors of heaven are kept open, and the doors of hell are closed, and Satan is kept in chains. Muslims go through a period of intense reflection and devotion, seeking guidance and forgiveness.

Muslims practice sawm, or fasting, during the entire month. This means they may eat or drink nothing, including water, while the sun shines. Married adults also refrain from marital relations during the hours of fasting (i.e. the daylight hours).

Other duties include five daily prayers and the recitation of the Taraweeh prayer, or Night prayer. At mosques during Ramadan, about one-thirtieth of the Quran is recited in prayers called tarawih. By the end of Ramadan, the entire Quran has been recited.

6) Why do Muslims fast during Ramadan?

Fasting is one of the Five Pillars (duties) of Islam. The Quran says that the main reason behind fasting is to attain taqwa, or God-consciousness. While they are hungry and thirsty, Muslims are reminded of the suffering of the poor. Fasting is also an opportunity to practice self-control and to cleanse the body and mind.

In the Muslim world, most restaurants are closed during the daylight hours during Ramadan. Families get up early for suhoor, a meal eaten before the sun rises. After the sun sets, the fast is broken with a meal known as iftar which usually includes dates, fresh fruits, appetizers, beverages and dinner.

All Muslims partake in the customs and celebration of Ramadan, starting at approximately age 12. Exceptions include men and women who are too old to fast, those who are too ill, women in the advanced stages of pregnancy, and women who are menstruating.

7) What does the Quran say about Ramadan?

"The month of Ramadan is the one in which the Quran was sent down, a guidance for mankind, clear proofs for the guidance, the Criterion; so whoever amongst you witnesses this month, let him fast it." (Surah al-Baqarah 2:185)

The hadith, a collection of the sayings of Muhammad, recommends the following: Study the Quran. Come together for this purpose. Check your memory of the Quran. Increase your recitation of the Quran.

8) Why are some Muslims questioning military strikes in Afghanistan during Ramadan?

This question is complicated and contains a sometimes volatile history. And the answers will differ from person to person. It is true that Ramadan is the holiest time in the Islamic calendar, a time in which nations and civilizations have been known to clear up their animosities for the sake of honoring Allah. On the other hand, there is also historical precedent for Islamic countries launching attacks during Ramadan, such as in the so-called Ramadan War (a.k.a. Yom Kippur War) in which Egypt and Syria launched an offensive on Israel in 1973 during Ramadan. For more information about this dilemma, look at the links at the bottom of this story.

9) How and when does Ramadan end?

Ramadan ends with the festival of Eid al-Fitr, which in 2001 will occur on Dec. 17. Literally the "Festival of Breaking the Fast," Eid al-Fitr is one of the two most important Islamic celebrations (the other occurs after the Hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca). At Eid al-Fitr people dress in their finest clothes, adorn their homes with lights and decorations, give treats to children, and enjoy visits with friends and family. At the end of Ramadan, Muslims give Zakat al Fitr, a monetary contribution to the poor or their mosques.

10) Where can I learn more about Ramadan?

Islam on Beliefnet
Ramadan on
Ramadan Resources
The Crescent Moon of Ramadhan
Holy Ramadan
18 Reasons Why Muslims Fast

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