For Muslims around the world, what's the ninth month of the year, during which strict fasting is observed from sunrise to sunset?

And the answer: Ramadan.

Photo courtesy: iStock/allexxandar.

For Muslims, the month of Ramadan is a period of introspection and communal prayer. Islamic tradition states that during Ramadan, God gave the prophet Muhammed revelations, which were collected into the holy book known as the Qur'an. The exact dates of Ramadan change each year, depending on the lunar cycle.

According to Islamic tradition, it was during the sacred days of Ramadan that God revealed the holy book of the Qur'an to the Prophet Muhammad. In the Qur'an, fasting is prescribed as an act of worship and a means of becoming closer to God. Fasting is also one of the five pillars of Islam – each individual observing the holy month who is mature and healthy enough is thus prescribed to do so for the full day.

Rather than practice atonement during the holy month, Ramadan is more geared toward practicing restraint (another pillar of Islam). While restraint translates most palpably into the act of fasting, it also translates into an urgency to leave behind immoral acts such as drink, sexual activity, and all impure or unkind thoughts. If fast is broken, charity work such as volunteering can be performed in its place.

After sunset, practicing families gather to break their fast with a meal called the ifṭār and conduct a nightly prayer. Oftentimes, if possible, families will congregate at their mosque for prayer. The entirety of the Qur'an is sometimes recited over the course of the month during these prayers. The end of Ramadan is celebrated with Eid al-Fitr, the "Feast of Fast-Breaking." Families come together in a formal, familiar meal to exchange gifts and pray together.

Learn more about the practice and history of this Islamic holy month below.

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