Ramadan is the ninth month in Islam's lunar calendar. This year, it began on November 16 and lasts until sunset on December 14.
For Muslims, Ramadan is a time for fasting or "sawm," which is one of the five pillars of Islam. That means no eating, drinking, smoking or sex from just before sunrise to just after sunset, every day of Ramadan. The length of the holiday is determined by the lunar calendar. In some years, it lasts 29 days, in others 30 days.
Ramadan is meant to strengthen Muslims' sense of humility, self-control, reflection and sensitivity to suffering. Toward that end, Ramadan is a time for reading the Quran, Islam's holy text. Muslims believe the Quran was sent from heaven on the 27th day of Ramadan. Traditionally, they read 1/30 of the Quran each day of Ramadan until the entire book is finished.
The parable of Ramadan is roughly as follows: Around 610 AD, the prophet Muhammad was wandering the desert near Mecca while contemplating his faith. One night, he heard the voice of the angel Gabriel from the heavens. Gabriel told Muhammad that he had been chosen to receive the wisdom of Allah (God). For the following days, Muhammad found himself speaking the verses that would eventually become known as the Quran. Partly in recognition of Muhammad's first communication with Gabriel, Muslims observe a long night prayer called a "Taraweeh" during Ramadan.
Ramadan eventually ends with a feast called "Eid al-Fitr," or "the feast of the fast-breaking." Muslims celebrate for three days with gifts, treats and street fairs.
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