Ramadan is a Muslim religious observance that takes place during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, believed to be the month in which the Qur'an began to be revealed. It is the Islamic month of fasting, in which Muslims don't eat or drink anything from sunrise 'till sunset. Fasting is meant to teach the person patience and humility. Many scholars are of the view that competing in sports or exercise should be refrained during the daylight hours since it causes one to be more thirsty, and thus, less patient. Most people who keep fasts choose to exercise in the night after the fasts are broken.
FastingThe most prominent event of this month is the fasting (sawm) practiced by the most observant Muslims. Every day during the month of Ramadan, Muslims around the world get up before dawn to eat the Suhoor meal (the pre dawn meal) and perform their fajr prayer. They break their fast when the fourth prayer of the day, Maghrib (sunset), is due.
During Ramadan, Muslims are expected to put more effort into following the teachings of Islam and to avoid obscene and irreligious sights and sounds. Sexual activities during fasting hours are also forbidden.[Qur'an 2:187] Purity of both thought and action is important. The fast is intended to be an exacting act of deep personal worship in which Muslims seek a raised level of closeness to God Almighty. The act of fasting is said to redirect the heart away from worldly activities, its purpose being to cleanse the inner soul and free it from harm. Properly observing the fast is supposed to induce a comfortable feeling of peace and calm. It also allows Muslims to practice self-discipline, sacrifice, and sympathy for those who are less fortunate, intended to make Muslims more generous and charitable. Muslims can eat after the sun has set. Pregnant women, the elderly, the ill and children less than 12 years of age are all exempt from fasting as lack of food could damage health.
Prayer and reading of the Qur'an
In addition to fasting, Muslims are encouraged to read the entire Qur'an.
Sunni Muslims tend to perform the recitation of the entire Qur'an by means of special prayers, called Tarawih, which are held in the mosques every night of the month, during which a whole section of the Qur'an (juz, which is 1/30 of the Qur'an) is recited, so that by the end of the month the entire Qur'an has been completed. Tarawih is an Arabic phrase referring to those extra prayers. This prayer is performed after salah of Isha'a, but before the witr rakat. Tarawih is not practiced by Shia Muslims, as they believe it was introduced into Islam by the second Caliph, Umar ibn al-Khattab.
Muslims also pay Zakat (only applicable if one can afford it) during the month. For those who qualify to pay Zakaat, as per the Islamic Nisab (that is those whose wealth exceeds their necessities), of the leftover of their wealth earned in that Islamic calendar year. Although Zakat can be paid any time of the year, it has to be calculated on a year to year basis, and many Muslims use Ramadan as the month for calculation and disbursement.
Ramadan is also a time when Muslims are to slow down from worldly affairs and focus on self reformation, spiritual cleansing and enlightenment, establishing a link between God Almighty and themselves by prayer, supplication, charity, good deeds, kindness and helping others.
Since it is a festival of giving and sharing, Muslims prepare special foods and buy gifts for their family and friends and for giving to the poor and needy who cannot afford it, this can involve buying new clothes, shoes and other items of need. There is also a social aspect involved - the preparing of special foods and inviting people for the Iftar meal (the meal to break the Fast).
In many Muslim and non Muslim countries with large Muslim populations, markets close down in the evening to enable people to perform prayers and consume the Iftar meal (the meal to end the fast) - these markets then re-open and stay open for a good part of the night. Muslims can be seen shopping, eating, spending time with their friends and family during the evening hours.
Events of Ramadan
Laylat al-Qadr (Arabic: لیلة القدر) (known as Shab-e Qadr in Persian), literally the "Night of Decrees" or "Night of Measures", is the anniversary of two very important dates in Islam that occurred in the month of Ramadan. Muslims believe that it was the night of the Laylat al-Qadr that the Quran's first verse was revealed. The exact night of the Laylat al-Qadr is only known to God and Muhammed but he chose to keep it to himself so that Muslims won't pray only that night. That is why Muhammad indicated that it was one of the last ten odd nights of Ramadan.
The Islamic holiday of Eid ul-Fitr (Arabic: عيد الفطر) marks the end of the fasting period of Ramadan and the first day of the following month, after another new moon has been sighted. The Eid falls after 29 or 30 days of fasting, as per the lunar sighting. Eid ul-Fitr means the Festival of Breaking the Fast, a special celebration is made. Food is donated to the poor (‘Zakat al-Fitr’), everyone puts on their best, preferably new, clothes, and communal prayers are held in the early morning, followed by feasting and visiting relatives and friends. The prayer is two rakaahs only, and it is an optional prayer as opposed to the compulsory 5 daily prayers. According to one current school of thought (Ankaboot), it is suggested that North American Muslims arrange their work-schedule for Eid by requesting the two most likely days of Eid as Holidays or simply as days off from work. This allows for quality family time, and is akin to the Christian/North American tradition of taking Christmas and Christmas Eve off as holidays. This also allows for time off to celebrate the Eid prayer at a mosque and with family. The fast always ends after 29 or 30 days of fasting, and thus the request would be for the 29th and 30th day after the start of the fast.
Text sources: Wikipedia