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Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic Calendar, considered by Muslims to be one of the holiest months of the year. It is a month of holy fasting from dawn until sunset, beginning and ending with the appearance of the crescent moon.
One of the odd numbered nights during the last ten days of Ramadan – usually commemorated on the 27th day – is known as Lailat al-Qadr, or The Night of Power. It is on this night that the first verses of the Qur’an were revealed to the prophet Muhammed.
Fasting during Ramadan is known as Sawm and is the fourth of the Five Pillars of Islam. The first three Pillars are Shahada (Declaration of Faith), Salah (Prayer), and Zakat (Almsgiving), and the fifth Pillar is Hajj (the Pilgimage to Mecca). These Five Pillars are fundamental practices considered to be obligatory acts of worship for all Muslims, to be performed by all who are able.
Fasting takes place from dawn until sunset each day of Ramadan, during which time worshippers are to prohibit themselves from food and drink, and if married, to abstain from sexual activity. Ramadan is also seen as a time to practice the avoidance of negative acts such as lying, gossiping, arguing, and talking behind the backs of others.
Though fasting during Ramadan is obligatory for all Muslims who have reached puberty, it is not expected of people for whom it would be an undue hardship. Women who are pregnant, nursing, or mensurating are exempt, as are those who are travelling. Those who are too weak or cannot fast due to old age, and those suffering from chronic illnesses are also exempt. Those who were prevented from fasting by temporary circumstances are expected to make up the missed days after the month of Ramadan and before the arrival of the next one.
The fasting of Ramadan is seen less as a period of atonement and more as a time for self-improvement, self-discipline, and self-restraint. It is believed that the act of fasting teaches empathy for the less fortunate, encouraging actions of charity and generosity. Ultimately, Ramadan is a time for the contemplation of one’s relationship with God.
A typical day during Ramadan sees people rise before dawn and eat a modest pre-fast meal known as suhoor. After the meal, the morning prayer is performed, and the day begins. Essentially, Muslims will go about their daily business as normal during Ramadan and are not expected to change their normal routine (though it is common in some Muslim majority countries for schools and business to reduce their hours during the day). After the sunset prayer people break their fast with a meal known as iftar, which is often shared amongst family and friends. It is common for mosques to host iftar and for the community to gather and share the meal together.
During Ramadan extra nightly prayers known as Tarawih are sometimes performed. In some mosques a thirtieth part of the Qur’an is recited each night, and thus the Qur’an is recited in full over the course of the month. The Tarawih is encouraged, but is not an obligatory practice.
In Muslim majority countries many changes made for the month of Ramadan, with businesses altering their opening and working hours, street food sold in the late evening for iftar, and restaurants opening early for suhoor. In New Zealand it is more common for Ramadan observance to take place in people’s homes, though mosques and Islamic Centres in the bigger cities will often host evening meals.
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic Calendar, which is made up of 12 months adding up to 354 days - 11 days shorter that the Gregorian Calendar. Thus, Ramadan begins on a different date each year.
In the Islamic Calendar, the months commence on the birth of the new lunar cycle. Traditionally, this is determined by actual observation of the Hilal, or crescent moon, with the naked eye. Some Muslim countries choose to follow the lead of Saudi Arabia in the determination of the beginning of the month, while others rely on their own observations. Aotearoa New Zealand is one such country. Here, the Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand (FIANZ) announces the beginning of Ramadan.
In 2023, Ramadan is likely to begin on or around the 22nd of March.