Ramadan is the ninth month in the Islamic lunar calendar. The word Ramadan is derived from the arabic word 'al-Ramz' which signifies "to burn." Ramadan burns the sins of the one who fasts in it, and who engages in pious deeds in abundance. This helps to burn the sins, hence the name given to this month is Ramadan.
This important holy month begins with the sighting of the new moon after which all physically mature and healthy Muslim's are obliged to abstain from all food, drink and tobacco between dawn and sunset. However, that is merely the physical component of the fast; the spiritual aspects of the fast include refraining from gossiping, lying, slandering and all traits of bad character. All obscene and irreligious sights and sounds are to be avoided. Purity of thought and action is paramount. Ordained in the Noble Quran, the fast is an exacting act of deeply personal worship in which Muslims seek a raised level of God-consciousness. The act of fasting redirects the hearts away from worldly activities, towards The Divine.
The month of Ramadan is a time for spiritual reflection, prayer, doing good deeds and spending time with family and friends. The fasting is intended to help teach Muslims self-discipline, self-restraint and generosity. It also reminds them of the suffering of the poor, who may rarely get to eat well. It is common to have one meal (known as the Suhoor), Sehri just before sunrise and another (known as the Iftar), directly after sunset. This meal will commonly consist of dates, following the example of the Beloved Prophet Muhammad, Salla Allahu Alayhi wa Sallam. Because Ramadan is a time to spend with friends and family, the fast will often be broken by different Muslim families coming together to share in an evening meal.
Muslims believe that Allah (God) began revealing the Noble Qur'an to the Beloved Prophet Muhammad Salla Allahu Alayhi wa Sallam during Ramadan (in the year 610 C.E.). The Qur'an commands: "O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that ye may (learn) self-restraint...Ramadan is the (month) in which was sent down the Qur'an, as a guide to mankind, also clear (Signs) for guidance and judgment (between right and wrong). So every one of you who is present (at his home) during that month should spend it in fasting..." (Chapter 2, verses 183 and 185). Fasting during Ramadan did not become an obligation for Muslims until 624 C.E., at which point it became the third of the Five Pillars of Islam. The others are faith (Shahadah); prayer (Salah); charitable giving (Zakah); and the pilgrimage to Makkah (Hajj).
Another aspect of Ramadan is that it is believed that one of the last few odd-numbered nights of the month is the Laylat al-Qadr, the "Night of Power" or "Night of Destiny." It is the holiest night of the holiest month; it is believed to be the night on which Allah first began revealing the Qur'an to the Prophet Muhammad Salla Allahu Alayhi wa Sallam through the angel Jibril (Gabriel) Alayhi Sallam. This is a time for especially fervent and devoted prayer, and the rewards and blessings associated with such are manifold. Muslims are told in the Qur'an that praying throughout this one night is better than a thousand months of prayer. This night is believed to be the 27th night of Ramadan. Additionally, Muslims are urged to read the entire Qur'an during the month of Ramadan, and its 114 chapters have been divided into 30 equal parts for this purpose.
When the first crescent of the new moon has been officially sighted by a reliable source, the month of Ramadan is declared over, and the month of Shawwaal begins. The end of Ramadan is marked by a special day known as Eid al-Fitr, the "Festival of Fast-breaking." It is a joyous time beginning with a special prayer, and accompanied by celebration, socializing, festive meals and sometimes very modest gift-giving, especially to children.
When Ramadan ends, Muslims give charity in a locally prescribed amount, calculated to feed one poor person in that region for one day. This is known as fitra, and is meant as another reminder of the suffering endured by many. Many Muslims also take this occasion to pay the annual alms which are due to the poor and needy, known as Zakaah (2.5% of assets).
At the beginning of Ramadan, it is appropriate to wish Muslims "Ramadan Mubarak" which means "Blessed Ramadan." At its conclusion, you may say "Eid Mubarak.
The Beloved Prophet Salla Allahu Alayhi wa Sallam delivered a thought provoking sermon on the last day of Sha'baan in which he said : " Oh Believers ! Be alert ! An auspicious month is about to dawn upon you , whose greatness and sanctity is not easy to comprehend. There comes to you a magnificent month, a blessed month, a month wherein is a night (Laylat al-Qadr) which is better than thousand months. Almighty Allah has made it's Fast's compulsory upon you, and the standing in its nights (Tarraweeh) a means of obtaining countless blessing's. Whoever sincerely makes an effort to seek the nearness of Allah in it, is like a person who has offered seventy obligatory deeds in other months. It is a month of patience, and the rerward of patience is Paradise. It is a month to show compassion to others. In it sustenance is increased. In this month the doors of Paradise are opened and the doors of Hell are barred (shut). Fasting is a shield against the fire of Hell. Hence it is important for the one who is fasting to abstain from uttering anything shameful or doing anything based on ignorance. If anyone tries to enter into a quarrel with him or swears him he should twice say " I am fasting. "
The Beloved Prophet Salla Allahu Alayhi wa Sallam further said : "I swear on Him in whose Hands is my life ! The breath emanating from the mouth of the observer of fasts is more beloved to Allah than the fragrance of musk. The observer of fasts abstains from eating and drinking, and from all sensual pleasures for My (Allah's) sake. Fasting is for Me and I alone shall give its rewards. "
The reward of every good deed is tenfold but the reward for fasting will be given by Allah alone. In short, this month is a treasure house of blessings and mercy. Therefore it is obligatory upon every Muslim to show this month the highest form of respect and at all times uphold its sanctity and dignity. Be firm and punctual in discharging one's obligation in respect of Namaaz, Fasting, Hajj, Zakaah and other commandments of Allah Almighty. Spend maximum time in the recitation of the Qur'an al-kareem, in Dhikr-Allah, in reciting Durood Shareef and offering sincere prayers for the betterment of one's Muslim brother's and for forgiveness of one's sins.
After Namaaz and Zakaat became obligatory, Fasting in the month of Ramadan became obligatory on the 10th of Sha'baan in the second year of Hijra. In accordance with Shariah (Islamic Law), fasting is abstention from eating, drinking and all forms of sensual pleasures from before true dawn until sunset with the sincere intention of doing it as an act of worship. For a woman it is a pre-requisite to be out of menstruation (Haiz) and bleeding after child birth (Nifaas). A woman will have to fast for the days she missed while in Haiz or Nifaas.
When fasting in the blessed month of Ramadan it is incumbent upon its observer that he should not merely abstain from eating, drinking and sexual relations, but he must not indulge in any sinful activity through speech, action, trade and other daily routine. This is made clear by the Quranic injunction: " So that you may become pious " (2: v183). While in the state of fasting a person must not move his hands or feet towards any evil activity. He should not utter anything vulgar, back-bite, swear etc. nor should he allow his ears to hear such obscenities. His eyes too should not fall on anything which is religiously made unlawful. Instead, we must make every effort to become a practical example of piety. If one fasts strictly by observing the above restrictions and conditions, then only will he be able to inculate in himself piety at the end of Ramadan.
Islam has given great credance for sighting of the new moon which should be proven without any shadow of a doubt, or related by witnesses satisfying religious conditions for it. The testimony of sighting the new moon should be presented to the Muslim Judge (Qadi) or if it is not a Muslim ruled country then to the authoritative Alim (learned person) of the town. If the moon is not sighted on the 29th of Sha'baan then 30 days of Sha'baan should be completed. Likewise, if the new moon is not visible on the 29th of Ramadan, and no religiously reliable news about it is obtained, 30 days of Ramadan should be completed and then Eid al-Fitr should be celebrated. However, it is sinful to fast when in doubt.
The Beloved Rasool Salla Allahu ta'ala 'alayhi wa 'aalihi wa sallam said, "See the moon and commence fasting and see the moon and end fasting (make Eid) and if the skies are overcast, then complete the counting of thirty (days)."
Hadrat Abu Hurayrah Radi Allahu anhu reported tha the Beloved Prophet Salla Allahu ta'ala 'alayhi wa 'aalihi wa sallam said, "Start fasting on seeing the crescent (of Ramadan), and give up fasting on seeing the crescent (of Shawwal), and if the sky is overcast (and you cannot see it), complete thirty days of Sha'ban." [Bukhari]
Hadrat Huzayfah Radi Allahu anhu reported that the Beloved Prophet Salla Allahu ta'ala 'alayhi wa 'aalihi wa sallam said, “Do not fast (for Ramadan) before the coming of the month until you sight the moon or complete the number (of thirty days); then fast until you sight the moon or complete the number (of thirty days). [Abu Dawood]