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).
Since, the Islamic calendar is lunar and the days begin at sunset, so there may be some discrepancy of a day depending on when the new Moon/Crescent is first visible. Thus, the Moon sightings may cause a variation of the date which begins at sunset on the day before the date specified for the first Ramadan (Ramadhan or Ramzan). Furthermore, Ramadan is the 9th month in the Islamic calendar consisting of 12 months with 354 days.
The month is so blessed as the first verses of the noble Qur’an were revealed to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) on the night called “Laila tul Qadr” which happened on one odd night during the last ten nights of the month of Ramadan. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said, “Whoever misses Lailatul Qadr - is indeed a loser.”
Hadrat Abu Hurairah reported that the Messenger of Allah has said, “When Ramadan begins, the doors of Paradise are opened, while the doors of Hell are shut, and the Shiateen (Satans) are chained tightly.” Also the doors of Mercy are opened.” [Sahih al-Bukhari Vol 1, Page 255 and Sahih al-Muslim, Vol 1, Page 346]
This year, the blessed month is likely to begin on Monday, August 1, 2011 - depending upon the moon sighting.
Fasting in Ramadan is compulsory for every Muslim, as it constitutes one of the five pillars of Islam. Therefore, Muslims all over the globe feel excited to begin a period of self-overhaul.
Being one of the five pillars of Islam, fasting from dawn to dusk during Ramadan is obligatory upon all healthy Muslims. Nevertheless, the sick, the elderly or the travellers are conditionally exempted. Those exempted also include children who are yet to attain the age of puberty and women during their monthly cycle of menstruation or those still discharging blood after delivering the baby. Also, the pregnant woman, who is worried for the fetus in her womb, is certainly allowed to eat and drink during Ramadan.
If a breast feeding mom is concerned that her child would not have enough breast milk after she starts fasting, she is also allowed to postpone her fasting till after Ramadan on some convenient time.
The fasting starts at dawn and ends at the Sunset with IFTAR followed by slaatul Maghreb, however, Fasting has to be intended prior to dawn in order to be valid. And during the fasting hours, the Muslims are strictly required to abstain from even Halal things such as satisfying the stomach including sexual advancement towards spouses.
Another advantage of Fasting is: it disallows a fasting person to use tongue unwisely - telling lies, doing gossips, backbiting and slander.
Instead, it motivates the Muslims to spend time reciting the noble Qur'an, attending khutbas (sermons), performing nawafils, etc. Those who offer nawafils during Ramadan would have their sins forgiven by Allah SWT. Ramadan also encourages the Muslims to perform ten days of i’tikaf (seclusion) for more reward from the Creator SWT.
The Prophet (SAW) also strongly recommended Tarawih prayers during the month of Ramadan. The Tarawih, which is to be performed after Isha prayer, can be done either individually or in congregation. Some Muslims offer twenty rakaats, while the others leave after just eight.
The most inspiring is the aware Muslims take almost complete advantage of doing their self-accountability for their own discipline. It does provide a greater chance to Muslims all over the globe to offer prayers and observe fasting in order to please Allah SWT.
Moreover, the month gives an excellent opportunity to all the fasting Muslims to feel the degree of torture due to an ongoing hunger, which the destitute people have to go through almost on daily basis. In Ramadan, Muslims donate a lot by participating in food drives for the poor or other charitable activities.
The Prophet of Allah said, “Whoever does not give up lying and evil actions, then Allah is not in need of his leaving his food and drink” [Saheeh al-Bukhari].
In short, the Muslims can greatly benefit from the Ramadhan to create a real connection with Allah SWT that can continue throughout the eleven remaining months.
There are tens of thousands of starving people around the globe who remind the fasting Muslims of how the hunger really feels like.
No doubt, fasting has health and spiritual benefits, yet we must never forget that the main goal of Fasting is to provide an environment of individual and collective training and character correction.
Hence, the essence of fasting remains the attainment of greater heights of righteousness by getting closer to Allah SWT.