What is Ramadan?

The Muslim fast of Ramadan (rahm-ah-dahn) falls in the ninth month on the Islamic lunar calendar and is the month during which Muslims observe fasting (sawm in Arabic), self-restraint, devotion, and spiritual awareness. It was during this month that the angel Gabriel revealed the Koran to the Prophet Mohammed who had retreated to a cave where he was meditating and fasting. It is also a time during which the rich are reminded to help those in need.

Following is a bit of information on the traditions of Ramadan to help you more fully appreciate what your Muslim exchange student will celebrate and experience this month. You may note that even if your host child is not very religious, Ramadan is generally a month during which he/she will experience homesickness as it is generally a very active social time in his/her home country: families get together often, friends visit one another, the streets are filled with activity in the evenings.

Eid al-Fitr concludes the end of Ramadan. This is one of the two main festivals of Islam. The ceremony of Eid al Fitr starts early in the morning with a worship service at the mosque. After prayer, a short sermon is delivered and then people greet each other. To celebrate the occasion, Muslims feast and visit friends and family. On Eid al-Fitr, your Muslim exchange student may also express wishes to attend prayer services at the mosque.

Religious and Dietary Practices During Ramadan

During Ramadan, Muslims do not eat or drink from the time the first light of dawn appears in the sky until the sun sets. They read the Koran and attend many spiritual discussions at the mosque in the evenings after the taraweeh prayer, which is the last formal prayer of the evening. Working hours are often reduced during Ramadan to allow more time for prayers and to enable people to sleep late.

Although Muslims follow similar rituals during the month of Ramadan – such as breaking the fast when the muezzin calls for prayer at sundown, attending the taraweeh prayer, and sharing the sohour meal before the sun comes up – specific traditions in food, clothing, and celebration make Ramadan take on various incarnations in different countries. A few glimpses of Ramadan traditions in Indonesia, Turkey, Egypt, the Philippines, India and Saudi Arabia show us some of these regional particularities.