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The holy month of Ramadan is the most important period of the Muslim lunar calendar. The 'Western' dates of the ninth month of the Hijra depend on the lunar calendar, causing it to fall approximately 11 days earlier each year (in 2001 around November 16, so count your way back). The first sighting of the new moon marks the beginning of the fast. Due to this visibility stipulation, the start date can also vary along the Islamic countries in the same year.

"O ye who believe, fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that ye may (learn) self-restraint."

Fasting is the fourth of five pillars of Islam. Each Muslim should go along with these established constitutions of the religion: faith, prayer, helping the poor, fasting during Ramadan and the pilgrimage to Mecca (hajj).

The religious fasting period observes the revelation of the Qur’an to the prophet Mohammed. When he first left Mecca for Medina, he fasted for three days. Subsequently a divine revelation launched the obligation to fast (sawm) a certain number of days, which established the month of Ramadan. The month of fasting was introduced after the Battle at Badr in 624, when just three hundred faithful Muslims defeated thousand Mecca soldiers. According to the Qur’an, the Muslims were aided by divine intervention.

During each day of Ramadan - from dawn to dusk - Muslims totally abstain from all worldly desires: food, drink, smoking and sex. Exemptions are made for certain people, including little kids, pregnant women, travelers and ill people. Many parents encourage their children at young age to fast for a few hours during Ramadan as a preparation for the years to come.

Some extremist fundamentalists see Ramadan as the sacred period for their struggle, a period of martyrdom and jihad that could bring them closer to God. The common Muslims see Ramadan as a physical deprivation to strengthen the will and an opportunity to seek forgiveness for their past sins, but Ramadan also contains the social virtue of creating new bonds of understanding between classes of people. Charity is obligatory for those who can afford it. Ramadan is a month of celebration, not of sorrow. Cities are festive and people harmoniously begin dinner at nightfall.

Some commemorations fall in the month of Ramadan:

  • The 10th day: observance of the death of Khadijah, Mohammed's first wife.
  • The 17th day: celebration of the decisive victory of the Muslims over the unbelievers at Badr.
  • The 19th day: celebration of Mohammed's conquest of Mecca.
  • one of the last ten days (odd numbered): Lailat Al-Qadr (Night of Power). The angels descend and the prayers of the sincere Muslims are certain to be answered. The Qur’an was revealed to Mohammed on Lailat-Al-Qader:
    "O people, a blessed month is drawing near with one night better than 1,000 months."

The Ramadan period ends with a huge feast of two or three days, called Eid Al-Fitr or Eid ul-Fitr ('Sker Bayrami' in Turkey, the Sugar Feast), where Muslims pray, visit friends and give presents. This Eid (Feast) is likely the biggest event in the Islamic calendar, traditionally celebrated by the sacrifice of sheep.

Ramadan is known as Ramazan in Turkey, and parts of the Middle East and Central and South Asia.