For more than one billion Muslims throughout the world, Ramadan—the ninth month of the Islamic calendar—represents a period of self-restraint and self-sacrifice, introspection and prayer. The holy month begins and ends with the appearance of the New Moon. Because Islam uses a lunar calendar, Ramadan begins and ends at a different time each year and varies depending where you live.
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According to Islamic tradition, on the night of 27 Ramadan (“Night of Power”), Allah, through the Angel Gabriel, spoke to Mohammed while he was leading a caravan through the desert of what is now Saudi Arabia. Mohammed then began speaking the verses that would be transcribed as the Quran, the Islam holy book. Ramadan dates back to about 610 AD.
Muslims observe the holiday by fasting between dawn and dusk from food and drink and refraining from all forms of immoral behavior and unkind thoughts. The purpose of the fasting, one of the Five Pillars of Islam, is to remind people of the suffering of the poor and to cleanse the body and mind. It is believed that through fasting, people can pay special attention to their spiritual needs. Muslims break the fast each evening with prayer and then share festive meals with family and friends.
At many mosques during Ramadan, Muslims gather for communal prayer and to hear passages of the Quran read aloud. Allah is believed to forgive the sins of those who observe the holy month. The end of the fast is celebrated with Eid al-Fitr, which is one of two major Islamic holidays.