Ramadhan begins with the sighting of the new moon and ends when the first crescent of the next new moon rises, declaring the start of a new month called Shawwal. The first day of Shawwal is marked by a joyous celebration called Eid ul-Fitr, meaning 'Festival of Breaking Fast'. This festival starts off with special congregational prayers in mosques or Islamic centers, followed by hearty feasts and socializing.
There are a few important things that Muslims observe during Ramadhan:
1. Fasting. The act of abstaining from food, drink and sexual intercourse is so prevalent during the month that people often misunderstand Ramadhan to mean fasting. Actually, the Arabic word for fasting is sawm. Fasting begins with suhoor, which is a light meal or snack at dawn, and ends with iftar or breaking fast, a full meal just after sunset.
Fasting is two-faceted, involving the physical and spiritual aspects of Islam. Physically, Muslims abstain from eating, drinking, smoking or having any form of sexual contact from sunrise until sunset. Spiritually, Muslims refrain from negative habits, such as gossipping, cursing, lying and badmouthing others. Additionally, Muslims avoid obscene sights and sounds.
Fasting strips away the distraction of worldly pleasures and enables Muslims to concentrate on inner reflection and heightened purity of thought and action. Ramadhan is the month to pray, perform good deeds and pass time with family and friends. It is also a time to remember the poor and how they suffer to get even one meal per day. In fact, at the end of Ramadhan, Muslims are encouraged to give fitra, a sufficient amount of charity to feed one person for a day.