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Every year, over 1 billion Muslims celebrate Ramadan. So, what is Ramadan, and what's its significance?

The beginning of Ramadan is the most important period of religious observance in Islam. Ramadan lasts the entirety of the ninth month in the Islamic lunar calendar, which began in AD 622 when Muhammad migrated from Mecca to Medina, and it is believed to be the time when Gabriel delivered the words of God to Muhammad. The revelations were collected into a 114-sura, holy book known as the Quran, which Muslims believe contains the exact words of God.

Muslims believe that Muhammad is the final prophet in a line of Islamic prophets (including Adam, Abraham, Moses and Jesus) who were chosen by God to act as messengers and teach mankind and that there is one, all-knowing God, and people can achieve salvation by following his commandments. In Arabic, Islam means “submission” or “surrender” (to God).

A series of formal acts of worship, known as the Five Pillars of Islam, are fundamental to the lives of Muslims. The pillars include shahada (a declaration of faith: “There is no deity but Allah God, and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah”); prayer (Muslims pray five times a day); zakat (charitable giving); fasting; and pilgrimage (Muslims are supposed to make a trip, or “hajj,” to the city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, at least once in a lifetime if they are physically and financially able).

As part of Ramadan's observance Muslims around the world fast from sunrise to sunset. In addition, it's customary to abstain from sex, violence, smoking, and any other sinful behavior in these hours of the day. Many Muslims believe that observing this way makes for more intense, meaningful prayer. In some parts of the world, business slows down and stores keep altered hours.

Fasting in Ramadan is obligatory for adults Muslims (except those who are suffering from an illness, travelling, are elderly, pregnant, breastfeeding, diabetic or going through menstrual bleeding), it does not mean Muslims retreat from their daily routine, and rather they are encouraged to continue as normal in their work and usual activities. Muslims go to work and school and take care of their usual activities during Ramadan; however, some also read the entire Quran, say special prayers and attend mosques more frequently during this time.  Muslims observe this occasion with study, devotional readings, and prayer, as the night's holiness is believe to make it a very good time for prayers to be answered. It is also a time when Muslims try to reconnect with the Quran, which they believe is the word of God.

In fact, this is where the challenge of patience and endurance comes in. Muslims believe fasting is not merely a physical ritual, but is primarily a time for reflection and spiritual recharging. Ramadan is a time to practice self-restraint and self-reflection. Fasting is seen as a way to cleanse the soul and have empathy for those in the world who are hungry and less fortunate.

The month is also a time of community; it is the custom for Muslims to invite their neighbors and friends to share their evening meal – iftar – and recite special Taraweeh prayers in congregation. The first pre-dawn meal of the day during Ramadan is called “suhoor.”

What Is Laylat Al Qadr?

Laylat Al Qadr is considered the holiest night of the year for Muslims. It is known as the "Night of Power," and commemorates the night that the Quran was first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad, beginning with the exhortation, "Read! In the Name of your Lord, Who has created (all that exists)," in Surat Al-Alaq. The

Prophet Muhammad did not mention exactly when the Night of Power would be, although most scholars believe it falls on one of the odd-numbered nights of the final ten days of Ramadan, such as the 21st, 23rd, 25th, 27th or 29th days of Ramadan. It is most widely believed to fall on the 27th day of Ramadan. The last ten days of Ramadan are considered a particularly spiritually important time, as any of the days may be Laylat Al Qadr, and thus worshippers strive to be especially observant during this period. Some Muslims participate in a spiritual retreat called itikaf, where they spend all ten days in the mosque reading the Quran and praying.

Breaking the Ramadan Fast: Eid al-Fitr

The month of fasting will end on either Friday 17 July or Saturday 18 July, as there are either 29 or 30 days in a lunar month. The conclusion of Ramadan is marked with a major celebration known as Eid al-Fitr, the Feast of Fast-Breaking. It starts the day after Ramadan ends and lasts for three days. It includes special prayers and meals with friends and relatives, and gift are often exchanged.

The lunar calendar falls short of the solar calendar by 11 days. As a result, it sometimes falls in winter months when the fasts are short, and in summer months when the fasts are long.

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