Ramadan, Islam's holy month of fasting

Ramadan has been observed and celebrated by Muslims for over 14 centuries.

In the seventh century, Prophet Muhammad said that Islam is built upon five pillars and that fasting in Ramadan was one of them.

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Ramadan means 'intense heat', indicating the scorching summer month to which it was first ascribed. Muslims embrace Ramadan as the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar.

In 610AD, Muhammad retreated to a cave on Mount Hira on the outskirts of Mecca. During this time occurred the first revelation of the Quran. The Quran was revealed to Muhammad over 23 years, and the verses instructing Muslims to fast the entire month of Ramadan came in the latter half of that period.

  • The early Muslims would awake for the pre-dawn meal - known as suhoor, then refrain from eating, drinking and marital relations until sunset, when they broke their fast with dates. Fasting placed a strong focus on improving behaviour.
  • Congregational night prayers (taraweh) is a defining feature of Ramadan, where the entire Quaran is recited.
  • Coffee helps the worshippers stay alert and perform the night prayers.
  • The core rituals of Ramadan have remained unchanged since 622AD.
  • In Ottoman times, drummers in Turkey woke people for the pre-dawn meal. In Morocco, a nafar (town crier) roamed the streets waking people to an instrument's sound, like a horn.
  • In Egypt, a Ramadan lantern became a symbol of the sacred month. Today, intricate lanterns light up homes, shops and lining the streets.
  • Egypt also instituted the 'iftar cannon,' where a cannon was fired to announce the time for breaking the fast.

Prophet Mohammad specified that Muslims feed the poor towards the end of Ramadan.

A portion of dates or barley was given directly into the poor's hands. Over time, the bartering system translated into a monetary one. Now Muslims give a minimum of £5 to mosques or charities.

The festival, known as Eid ul-Fitr, marks the close of Ramadan. Prophet Muhammad appointed it as a day of community and celebration. It started with a special communal prayer.

Breakfast consisted of something sweet, known as 'Sweet Eid'. In the Prophet's time, Eid morning started with a simple breakfast of dates, but as Islam spread through different lands, various sweet dishes were used like sheer-kurma, a milky dessert of vermicelli, nuts and dates.

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