Holidays and Regular Observances

What is the importance of the month of Ramadan?

During pre-Islamic times the month called Ramadan (“high summer”) was religiously significant as a time during which the Arab tribes observed a truce from all hostilities. Of all the months the Qur’an mentions only Ramadan by name, identifying it as the month during which the scripture was revealed. Scripture suggests that the initial divine revelation is the reason for the practice of fasting throughout the month. Ramadan begins with the sighting of the new moon on the last night of the eighth month. Each day, from dawn until sunset, Muslims are enjoined to fast from all food and liquid, as well as from sexual activity and other forms of sensual pleasure. Fasting also means refraining from negative attitudes and complaining, and developing a sense of solidarity with those who suffer from want all year long. After Muslims break the fast with some water and dates, they eat a meal before retiring. Before dawn they may have another meal, but limit other forms of celebration during the entire month. Special prayers are scheduled in mosques, along with the recitation of one of thirty “sections” of the Qur’an, completing the entire sacred text over the thirty nights.

A number of important dates fall during Ramadan. Most important is the “Night of Power,” one of the odd-numbered nights among the last ten, usually observed on the twenty-seventh. Muslims believe that God’s initial revelation to Muhammad makes this the holiest time of the entire year. Other important times during Ramadan include the birthday of the martyr Husayn (6th), death of Muhammad’s first wife, Khadija (10th), the Battle of Badr (a key event in 625, the 17th), the retaking of Mecca in 630 (19th), the deaths of Ali and of the eighth Shi’a Imam, Ali Reza (21st), and Ali’s birthday (22nd). Where Muslims are in the majority or a very sizable minority, the rhythm of life slows dramatically during Ramadan. At the sighting of the next new moon, all rejoice in the Feast of Fastbreaking, ‘Id al-Fitr.

Celebrants during the last day of Ramadan, Milan, Italy. (Eugenio Marongiu /


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