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Every year, 1.5 billion Muslims around the world celebrate Ramadan (¿¿¿¿¿? in Arabic), which is the 9th month of the Islamic calendar, called the Hijri calendar. For Muslims, the month is spent as a time of spiritual reflection, self-improvement and increased devotion and worship.
Like all Islamic months, Ramadan begins after sighting the crescent moon. Unlike the Gregorian calendar, which is based on the Earth’s movement around the sun, the Islamic calendar is lunar based. In a lunar cycle months drift each year by 11 to 12 days, explaining why Ramadan is celebrated at different times every year. In 2013 Ramadan began at sunset on July 8th and will end on the evening of August 7th. In 2014 observances begin on June 28th and end July 27th.
The word Ramadan comes from the Arabic root word for "parched thirst" and "sunbaked ground." It is compulsory for Muslims to fast during the month, so long as they are healthy and able to do so. During Ramadan Muslims refrain from consuming food, drinking, and smoking during daylight hours. Each day before dawn, Muslims may observe a pre-fast meal called Suhoor. This pre-fast meal ends a short time before dawn with the first prayer of the day, called Fajr prayer.
Through fasting, a Muslim experiences hunger and thirst, and sympathizes with those who have little to eat and drink every day. It’s intended to teach self-control, charity, and improvement of health. Through increased charity, Muslims develop feelings of generosity and good-will toward others. One of the Five Pillars of Islam, fasting during the month of Ramadan is an annual practice. The other pillars of Islam include belief, worship, charitable giving, and a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in a lifetime.
At sunset, Muslims are able to break the fast for the day with the meal known as Iftar. Typically, families are encouraged to have Iftar together. Considering the large diversity of the Muslim population, there is no typical Suhoor or Iftar menu. Suhoor can consist of standard breakfast foods, ethnic foods or even leftovers. However, to break the fast in the evening there is a shared custom among Muslims of eating dates. After breaking the fast, Muslims usually delay the start of the full meal until they have performed sunset prayer, known as Maghrib. This is the fourth of the five daily prayers.
Eid al-Fitr (“festivity of breaking the fast”) marks the end of Ramadan and the beginning of the next lunar month. Eid al-Fitr includes attending a large congregation prayer early in the morning followed by various festivities, including social gatherings, visitations, gift exchanges, and conveying happy tidings to friends and relatives.
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