Ramadan is an Islamic holy observance happening each year in August when Muslims fast for the entire month. It occurs in the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, falling between the the first and 30th of August. All Islamic holidays in the Islamic calendar start on the eve of the observance at sunset. The Islamic calendar also follows the lunar calendar which ends up lasting either 29 or 30 full days. Prayers and fasting are an integral par of Ramadan and all Muslims are expected to avoid drinking and eating - but during daylight hours only. If you are traveling in Islamic countries like Saudi Arabia during this time, it is considered rude to be seen eating or drinking in public during the day. This does not hold true in many of the hotels catering to Western tourists.
In English, fasting is considered to be avoiding food but in Arabic the word translates directly into “refraining,” so in the case of Ramadan Muslims refrain from food and drink but also from physical aspects such as wrongful thoughts, words, and actions. Much like the Indian religious observance of Kumbh Mela, Muslims focus on cleansing their souls during Ramadan through purity of actions and thoughts.
Throughout Ramadan, the practice is to fast from sunrise until sunset. Families gather for a meal to break the fast, called “Iftar,” once the sun has set. Usually both close and extended family join each other to eat. Once the end of the month of Ramadan arrives, there is generally a large celebratory banquet held. Children under 15 years of age, pregnant and nursing women, the elderly and/or sick are not called to fast.
Zakat is a Pillar of Islam focusing on charity, which is an extremely important aspect of Ramadan. In the Koran it is written that charity during Ramadan is valued as “seven hundred times” greater than any other time of the year. Many take advantage of this and perform many acts of charity during the observance. Muslims are called to donate 1/40th of their yearly income to charity by Zakat. Volunteering and giving food to the poor are also popular practices during this devout time of year for Muslims.
During Ramadan, practicing Muslims are encouraged to read Islamic texts called the Koran, from beginning to end. The exceptionally devote recite what is called Tarawih, which is the Koran in its entirety. These special prayers are hosted at local mosques where Muslims gather together to pray one section of the Koran at a time. After the month is through, the entire text can be completed.