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Ramadan is the ninth month of the Hijra calendar. Since the Hijra calendar is based on the lunar cycle, it is shorter than the Gregorian calendar. Hence all the Hijra months, including Ramadan, traverse the year and the seasons. Ramadan is a very blessed time, perhaps the holiest time of the year for Muslims. It is a time of many special blessings and a time when Muslims concentrate even more on pleasing ALLAH, Subhanahu wa ta'ala, The CREATOR.
The significance of the month begins with the initial divine revelation to Prophet Muhammad, salla ALLAHu alaihi wa sallam. It was during Ramadan that the Angel Jibril (Gabriel), alaihis salaam, first appeared to Muhammad, salla ALLAHu alaihi wa sallam, and asked him to read. The Prophet, salla ALLAHu alaihi wa sallam, who was illiterate, responded that he could not read. The Angel, alaihis salaam, repeated the request two more times, and after receiving the same response, recited, "Read in the name of thy LORD...". These were the first verses of the Noble Quran, to be revealed to Muhammad, salla ALLAHu alaihi wa sallam, and the beginning of the message he was to deliver to mankind.
It was on the 1st of Ramadan that the book of Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham), alaihis salaam, was revealed. The Torah (Old Testament) was revealed on the 6th of Ramadan, and the Injeel (New Testament) was revealed on the 13th of Ramadan.
Of course, Ramadan is most recognized as the Muslim month of fasting. Fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam and during the month of Ramadan, all able Muslims are required to fast, as directed in the Noble Quran: "O you who believe! Fasting has been prescribed upon you as it was prescribed upon those before you, that you may learn self-restraint and GOD-consciousness..." This ayat from the Noble Quran teaches us that fasting was required of the people before the revelation of the Quran to Prophet Muhammad, salla ALLAHu alaihi wa sallam, and continued to be required after that. It also teaches us the reason for fasting: to attain a higher level of self-restraint and a greater awareness of our CREATOR. Through this one attains piety and a higher reward.
During Ramadan, Muslims are required to fast from dawn until sunset, every day of the month. This fast is a total abstinence from food, drink, smoking, marital relations, and all evil and morally unlawful actions. But Ramadan is much greater than just fasting and abstinence. It is a time of increased worship and remembering the CREATOR. During Ramadan, Muslims make an extra effort to attend all the daily prayers in the Masjid (Mosque). There are additional prayers that are held after the night prayer, referred to as Taraweeh salat. You will find Muslims participating in this throughout the Muslim communities. Muslims make a special effort to recite the Quran more frequently and spend their nights in acts of worship and remembrance, forgoing sleep.
Breaking the fast at sunset becomes a special time, when a Muslim can be thankful for having observed the fast throughout the day, seeking ALLAH's, Subhanahu wa ta'ala, reward, and having the opportunity to eat so they will have the strength to fast again the next day.
Muslims strive to improve their lives and their demeanor during Ramadan and hope to carry that improvement throughout the year. Ramadan is a time when Muslims remind themselves of their duties to ALLAH, Subhanahu wa ta'ala, to their families and to their fellow man and environment. They make a special effort to be more pleasant and to be more generous. This carries through to the rest of the year.
As the month of Ramadan ends, ALLAH, Subhanahu wa ta'ala, has ordained that Muslims should observe a holiday, called Eid-ul-Fitr, the holiday to break the fast of Ramadan. Muslims are required to make a provision to those less fortunate than themselves before the holiday arrives. This is to ensure everyone can enjoy the Eid without the concern of wanting of food or clothing.
For those unable to fast due to age, illness, traveling or other hardship, alternatives have been provided. They should make up the fast when their condition subsides. If it is permanent, they must feed a needy person, preferably a fasting one, with the same quality and quantity of food they will eat.
Muslims are encouraged to break their fast together with other fellow Muslims and to partake of Suhur, a light snack taken during the night, prior to dawn. Suhur is considered a blessing to the Muslim and many stay up after this snack to read and recite the Quran or to perform other enriching activities until the time of the Fajr (dawn) salat. Of course, voluntary prayers are encouraged at all times. (There are some brief periods when prayer is not allowed.) In fact, praying during the middle of the night is always encouraged and is normally practiced consistently by those who have achieved a high degree of GOD-consciousness.