Ramadan Background

What you need
to know about

A month to reflect, fast, and bond with family, community, and God.

And to be a little hungry.

A month of reflection

Ramadan is the holiest month of the year for Muslims.

It’s the period in which the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was visited by the archangel Gabriel and began to receive the Qur’an—the final scripture revealed by God. Believers commemorate this revelation through prayer, charity, and building a closer relationship with God.

Ramadan is the month in which the Qur’an was revealed as a guide for humanity with clear proofs of guidance and the standard ˹to distinguish between right and wrong˺. So whoever is present this month, let them fast.

Qur’an, 2:185

Of course, fasting is the hallmark of Ramadan. Participants do not eat, drink, smoke, or engage in intimacy from before sunrise to sunset. Each day of the month begins with a pre-dawn meal, suhoor, and ends with iftar, the fast-breaking meal. It’s also very common to perform taraweeh, communal prayers with family or at the mosque, at the close of each day, and to spend extra time in personal supplication throughout each night. During daylight hours, fasting folks go about their usual routines at work, school, and home. Be gentle, your Muslim coworkers and students are probably a bit tired!

While fasting can be a challenge, it’s also…

A man pray on a prayer mat

An opportunity to reconnect

Emptying the stomach can really free up space for the soul. Each year when Ramadan comes along, Muslims pause to reflect on their habits and the state of their hearts.

The Qur’an says,

O you who believe, fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may develop God-consciousness.

Qur’an, 2:183

With the goal of God-consciousness in mind, many use the month as a time to reconnect with the Divine through a focus on spiritual self-improvement. This can look like extra recitation of the Qur’an, more time spent in prayer, the abandonment of bad habits, or a renewed focus on volunteering to assist those in need.

Ramadan is also a time to bond with family, friends, and community. Muslims are encouraged to spend more time at the mosque, host and attend communal dinners (with their ever-present danger of eating too many samosas), visit extended family and friends, and celebrate together at the end of the month.

Ramadan by the numbers

2 billion

Muslims observe Ramadan worldwide

17h 26m

Longest fasting hours in Nuuk, Greenland

12h 44m

Shortest fasting hours in Porto Montt, Chile

Frequently asked questions

How long does the fast last? Is it 24 hours?

The fast is not 24 hours; it extends from before sunrise to sunset. As a result, the timing of the fast varies with the season and geographic location.

Ramadan follows the lunar calendar, so each year the timing changes by about 11 days. In 2024, it will begin around March 10th and end around April 9th. The exact days are confirmed by the sighting of the new moon at the start of the month.

So then what about people who live in areas with really long or really short days?

They still fast from before sunrise to sunset! This could be anywhere from 10-20 hours. In extreme cases, such as for those who live above the Arctic circle, they can choose to follow the fasting times of a city in their country with fewer daylight hours, or even to follow the timing of the fast in Makkah.

Can Muslims who are fasting eat or drink anything at all? What about water?

The Ramadan fast is a complete abstention from ingesting anything (at least while the sun is up). This includes water, gum, caffeine, cigarettes, and medications.

But what if someone is sick or needs medications?

There are many medical exemptions to fasting. People with chronic illnesses or who need to take regular doses of medication are not required to fast. A verse in the Qur’an even says about those who struggle to fast:

God intends for you ease and does not intend for you hardship.

Qur’an, 2:185

Ahhh, ok. Is anyone else exempt from fasting?

Yes, children who haven’t reached the age of puberty are not required to fast, although some like to practice and participate in Ramadan activities. Pregnant women and nursing mothers who struggle to fast, as well as those who are traveling, can choose to skip the fast and make it up at a later time.

What about the opposite? Who’s allowed to fast? Can I join in as a non-Muslim if I want to support my Muslim friends?

You’re welcome to give it a try! Consult your doctor to make sure fasting is safe for you, ask your friends (or Google) about the fasting timeline in your location, and don’t forget to eat a healthy, hydrating suhoor for some all-day energy.

Umm…fasting seems kind of intimidating. What if I just congratulate my friends and work colleagues on Ramadan—should I say Happy Ramadan? And can I give them a gift?

The most common terminology is “Ramadan Mubarak,” which roughly translates to “Have a blessed Ramadan.” But they’ll appreciate hearing “Happy Ramadan,” too!

No need to give gifts—those are reserved for Eid celebrations at the end of the month. However, you could always join them for iftar after sundown at their home, your home, or a (preferably halal) restaurant.

Not a bad idea. Are there any special foods that are eaten during Ramadan?

There’s a vast diversity of Muslim cultures and ethnicities around the world, and their Ramadan dishes of choice can vary just as much.

Many follow the practice of the Prophet Muhammad and break the fast with dates and milk or water, pray the Maghrib prayer, and then eat a full meal. Mindful eating is also encouraged after breaking the fast; this can look like eating healthy, avoiding overeating, and partaking in celebratory foods in moderation.

Anything else I can do for my Muslim friends of work colleagues? Should I avoid eating or drinking around them?

Most Muslims are used to seeing people eat and drink around them and won’t necessarily mind if you do (though some might get sad if they smell coffee brewing that they can’t have). However, in some Muslim majority countries, it is seen as a faux pas to eat publicly during the fasting hours.

Many are sleepy from long nights spent in prayer and from waking for the pre-dawn meal, so avoiding scheduling early morning meetings or get-togethers would be appreciated.

So…not to be rude, but this all seems really complicated. What’s the point? What are Muslims hoping to achieve by fasting?

The biggest goal of Ramadan is described in the Qur’an:

Fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may develop God-consciousness.

Qur’an, 2:183

Fasting helps Muslims remember God. Going hungry is a reminder of the dependent nature of humans on God, including for basic necessities such as food and drink.

It also encourages the practice of gratitude for all of the blessings of life and sympathy for those who have less.

Many Muslims spend extra money giving to charity and extra time volunteering while fasting.

The entire month is meant to help Muslims shake off the complacency of daily life and jumpstart spiritual growth, piety, and generosity to others.