Ramadan is the ninth and holiest month of the Islamic lunar calendar. Learn about the traditions and history of this month of fasting observed by Muslims all over the world.


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Social Studies, Religion

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Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. Muslims believe the first verses of the Qur'an were revealed to Prophet Muhammad during the month of Ramadan, making it the holiest month of the Islamic calendar. Throughout the month, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset, meaning they abstain from food and drink from dawn to dusk.

Ramadan is a month of increased spirituality and charity, and Muslims are also expected to refrain from gossiping, lying, and interpersonal conflict while they fast. Though fasting Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam, making it a requirement for Muslims, there are many exemptions. Those who are sick, traveling, menstruating, pregnant, elderly, or very young are some examples of those not required to fast.

In majority-Muslim countries, Ramadan is a very festive time marked by decorations, communal meals, sweets, and more. Some of these traditions are almost universal, such as eating a pre-dawn meal called suhoor prior to morning prayer, or decorating with lights like the fanoos (lantern). Other traditions are regional, such as the Javanese custom of bathing in springs, or the Palestinian practice of serving a dish that is either green or white for the first iftar (evening meal) of Ramadan.

In countries where Muslims are a minority, it is common for Muslims to be accustomed to fasting at work or school while their peers eat and drink. Muslims in these countries often gather with family and friends who share their faith to observe Ramadan. Local mosques are also a place where Muslims can find community during Ramadan.

Muslims believe the blessings bestowed upon them for charitable giving are increased during Ramadan. It is common for Muslims to pay zakat, a yearly charitable donation required of every Muslim adult with the means to pay, during Ramadan. Many mosques around the world serve free communal iftar. These meals are often interfaith and feed people in need without questions asked. Prayer also takes on special importance during the month. A special prayer called Tarawih, which is longer than typical Islamic prayers and is optional, is performed only during Ramadan.

Muslims commemorate the end of Ramadan with Eid al-Fitr, the festival of breaking fast. It is one of the two major holidays of the Islamic calendar, the other being Eid al-Adha, which commemorates the story known in Christianity and Judaism as the Binding of Isaac. Eid al-Fitr is celebrated with morning prayers, sweets, decorations, communal meals, and visits to deceased relatives’ graves. It is also customary for Muslims to exchange gifts or money and to wear special attire, which may be traditional outfits or clothes bought specifically for the occasion.

In majority-Muslim countries, people are not expected to report to work or school on Eid, while Muslims in countries where they are the minority may have to request the day off. The traditional greeting for Eid al-Fitr, as well as Eid al-Adha, is “Eid mubarak,” which means “blessed Eid.”

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Bayan Atari, National Geographic Society
Clint Parks
Last Updated

April 2, 2024

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