What is the history of Ramadan?

Ramadan is the 9th month of the Islamic calendar. The term Ramadan literally means scorching in Arabic. It was established as a Holy Month for Muslims after the Quran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad in 610 CE on the occasion known as Laylat al-Qadr, frequently translated as "the Night of Power.

Observance of Ramadan is mandated in the Quran, Surah 2, Ayah 185:

“The month of Ramadhan [is that] in which was revealed the Qur'an, guidance for the people and clear proofs of guidance and criterion. So whoever sights [the new moon of] the month, let him fast it; and whoever is ill or on a journey - then an equal number of other days. Allah intends for you ease and does not intend for you hardship and [wants] for you to complete the period and to glorify Allah for that [to] which He has guided you; and perhaps you will be grateful.”

What are the dates of Ramadan?

Because the cycle of the lunar calendar does not match the solar calendar, the dates of Ramadan shifts by approximately 11 days each year. In 2011, Ramadan began on August 1st. In 2012 Ramadan is likely to begin on July 20th.

The ending of Ramadan is marked by the holiday of Eid ul-Fitr, which takes place either 29 or 30 days after the beginning of the month. On Eid ul-Fitr, morning prayers are followed by feasting and celebration among family and friends. This year Eid ul-Fitr will most probably fall on Sunday, August 19th.

What are the daily fasting requirements?

During the month of Ramadan, most Muslims fast from dawn to sunset with no food or water. Before sunrise many Muslims have the Suhur or predawn meal. At sunset families and friends gather for Iftar which is the meal eaten by Muslims to break the fast. Many Muslims begin the meal by eating dates as the Prophet used to do.

This ritual fast known as, Sawm, is one of the five pillars of Islam, and requires that individuals abstain from eating, drinking, smoking and sexual intercourse.

To find the specific times for Ramadan fasting, click over to this helpful tool provided by IslamiCity that allows you to calculate prayer schedules -- including sunup and sundown -- by entering your city or zip code.

What are the expectations towards charity?

Charity is an important part of Ramadan. The fast emphasizes self-sacrifice and using the experience of hunger to grow in empathy with the hungry. During Ramadan, Muslim communities work together to raise money for the poor, donate clothes and food, and hold iftar dinners for the less fortunate.

What scriptural study do Muslims take part in?

Many Muslims use Ramadan to read the entire Quran or read the Quran daily. Many communities divide the Quran into daily reading segments that conclude on Eid ul-Fitr at the end of Ramadan.

Can non-Muslims participate?

Non-Muslims are free to participate in Ramadam. Many non-Muslims fast and even pray with their Muslim friends or family members. Non-Muslims are often invited to attend prayer and iftar dinners.

Those wishing to be polite to someone who is fasting for Ramadan may greet them with Ramadan Mubarak or Ramadan Kareem, which mean Have a Blessed or Generous Ramadan.

Should Muslims with diabetes fast?

Fasting during Ramadan is discouraged for patients with diabetes by the American Diabetes Association.

“In keeping with this, a large epidemiological study conducted in 13 Islamic countries on 12,243 individuals with diabetes who fasted during Ramadan showed a high rate of acute complications.”

However, the study says this was not conclusive. Many diabetic patients fasted with no complications. Patients with diabetes should work with their doctors to figure out a strategy if they choose to fast.

What is the 'goal' of Ramadan?

In general, the practices of Ramadan are meant to purify oneself from thoughts and deeds which are counter to Islam. By removing material desires, one is able to focus fully on devotion and service to God. Many Muslims go beyond the physical ritual of fasting and attempt to purge themselves of impure thoughts and motivations such as anger, cursing, and greed.

Do all Muslims take part in Ramadan fasting?

Most Muslims believe Ramadan fasting is mandatory, but there are some groups that do not. Pregnant or breastfeeding mothers, people who are seriously sick, travelers, or those at health risk should not fast. Children that have not gone through puberty are also not required to fast during the month Ramadan.

Click through the photos to see scenes from Ramadan:

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  • Iraqis shop for food at a market as they

    Iraqis shop for food at a market as they prepare for the upcoming holy fasting month of Ramadan in Baghdad's Sadr City on July 16, 2012. During Ramadan, observant Muslims fast from dawn to dusk and strive to be more pious and charitable. Families traditionally share generous evening meals to break their fast. AFP PHOTO / AHMAD AL-RUBAYE (Photo credit should read AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/GettyImages)

  • Iraqis shop for food at a market as they

    Iraqis shop for food at a market as they prepare for the upcoming holy fasting month of Ramadan in Baghdad's Sadr City on July 16, 2012. During Ramadan, observant Muslims fast from dawn to dusk and strive to be more pious and charitable. Families traditionally share generous evening meals to break their fast. AFP PHOTO / AHMAD AL-RUBAYE (Photo credit should read AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/GettyImages)

  • Lebanese orphans play traditional drums

    Lebanese orphans play traditional drums during a ceremony to celebrate the upcoming Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan in Beirut on July 11, 2012. Muslims around the world celebrate Ramadan, the holiest month in the Islamic calender, in which they abstain from eating, drinking and conducting sexual relations from sunrise to sunset. AFP PHOTO/ANWAR AMRO (Photo credit should read ANWAR AMRO/AFP/GettyImages)

  • RAMADAN

  • People watch a dance perform by a man celebrates Eid al-Fitr in Karachi, Pakistan on Thursday, Sept 1, 2011. Eid, the ending of Muslims fasting month of Ramadan is one of the most important holidays in the Muslim world, is marked with prayers, family reunions and other festivities. (AP Photo/Fareed Khan)

  • A girl looks on as she sits with her family at Tripoli's main square, during the celebrations of the first day of Eid al-Fitr in Tripoli, Libya, Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2011. Muslims are celebrating the festival of Eid al-Fitr which marks the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan. (AP Photo/Alexandre Meneghini)

  • Muslims offer prayers in front of the historic Taj Mahal on Eid al-Fitr in Agra, India, Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2011. Eid al-Fitr is a holiday marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan, which is observed by millions of Muslims around the world. (AP Photo/Pawan Sharma)

  • Libyan muslims pray in Green Square, renamed Martyr's Square, during the morning Eid prayer, marking the end of Ramadan and to celebrate victory over embattled Moammar Gadhafi, inTripoli, Libya, Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2011. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

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