Ramadan, the holy month of fasting and prayer for Muslims that lasts for 30 days, begins on April 12 in 2021. The ninth month of the Islamic calendar ends on May 11 this year. Decorations and gifts for Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr displayed in Santa Monica, California on April 9.
The Muslim calendar follows the phases of the moon (the lunar cycle). Its calendar year is shorter than that of the more commonly used Gregorian calendar, so Ramadan begins 10 to 12 days earlier each year.
The dates for Ramadan may vary across countries as they are dependent on the appearance of the crescent moon.
Fasting can take place throughout the Islamic calendar year, but it is primarily associated with Ramadan. Muslims are expected to fast every day from dawn to sunset.
The Muslim Council of Britain, the U.K.’s biggest Islamic organization, explains: “Muslims around the world fast during daylight hours, meaning they abstain from eating, drinking or engaging in sexual relations for the duration of their fast. Young children, pregnant women, the old, the sick and travelers are examples of those who are exempt from fasting.”
Muslim Aid, a U.K.-based NGO, advises: “Fasting is a key part of Ramadan and all those of able body and sound mind should fast during this Holy time.”
Ramadan represents a period of practicing self-restraint to keep in line with ṣawm (meaning “to refrain” in Arabic), which is one of the pillars of Islam.
The Muslim Council of Britain says: “A key objective of fasting increase in taqwa (closeness to/consciousness of God), and to engender a sense of gratitude, self-discipline and self-improvement, at both an individual and community level, which Muslims are encouraged to continue throughout the year.
“At an individual level, fasting encourages us to feel an affinity with the poor across the world who have little or no food to eat.”
Families and local communities are also encouraged to share meals with friends and neighbors and reach out to those who may be fasting alone during Ramadan.
“Aside from fasting, Muslims observing Ramadan also increase in spiritual devotional acts such as prayer, giving charity and strengthening family ties,” the council adds.
Ramadan ends with Eid al-Fitr, a festival that marks the breaking of the fasting period. It begins on May 12 this year and can be celebrated for up to three days.
“It is a time for great feasts, the giving of gifts to children and spending time with those dearest to you,” says Muslim Aid.