Ramadan, the ninth month in the Islamic calendar, is the month when the Quran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. The fourth Islamic pillar of faith requires all Muslim people to fast and pray during this time -- rituals meant to enhance spirituality and improve awareness of the poor. Ramadan is also a time for family and celebration.
The most important part of Ramadan observance is known as Sawm, the name for keeping the fast during daylight hours. Fasting begins at Fajr, the time of the first morning prayer, and continues until sundown. Before the fast begins each day, Muslims eat a large breakfast known as sahoor. They eat again at sundown when a meal called iftar breaks the fast. Only healthy adults observe this ritual. Those who are sick, elderly, pregnant, menstruating or nursing should not participate, and missed days must be made up later when possible.
Prayer is a central part of Islam, which observes five prayer times each day. Ramadan places a special emphasis on praying, although traditions vary between Sunni and Shiite Muslims. After regular evening prayers, Sunni Muslims go to a mosque for a prolonged prayer, which involves reciting the Quran. Shiite Muslims do not observe this practice and instead pray at home. Prayer during the final 10 days of Ramadan is so important that some Muslims seclude themselves in mosques, a practice known as I‘tikaf.
As a part of the fast, Muslims who observe Ramadan abstain from smoking (including secondhand smoking) and sex during daylight hours. Taking oral or intravenous medicine and drinking fluids, including water, are also forbidden at this time. Abstinence is not required during the hours between sundown and sunrise under normal circumstances; however, a Muslim who has gone into seclusion should not engage in sexual activity at any time. Abstinence during Ramadan is intended to promote self-control and piety.
A festival known as Eid al-Fitr marks the end of Ramadan and is observed to celebrate the end of the fast. The Eid celebration usually lasts for three days and includes the first daytime feast since the beginning of Ramadan. In addition, Muslims engage in communal prayer times and are required to give charitably to the poor. Eid is marked by festive decorations and giving gifts to family members. It is also a traditional time of forgiveness and spending time with family.
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