June 28th, 2014
08:12 AM ET

The Belief Blog guide to Ramadan

(CNN) - For 1.6 billion people, the holiest month of the year began this past Saturday.

The exact starting date sometimes depends on the locale, but most Muslims across the globe will be fasting, praying and abstaining from sex and smoking during daylight hours. Many call it a time of spiritual purity and rededication to God.

Here's everything you need to know about the observance.

What is Ramadan?

Ramadan is the name of the ninth month in the Hijri, or Islamic calendar. The word derives from the Arabic ramida or ar-ramad meaning a fierce, burning heat.

How important is it?

Ramadan is the most sacred month in the Muslim year, commemorating the revelation of the Holy Quran - the sacred religious text of Islam - by the angel Gabriel to the Prophet Mohammed, according to Islamic tradition.

What does it involve?

The main obligation of the festival is the Sawm, or fast. Believers are expected to refrain from eating and drinking from dawn (fajr) until dusk (maghrib) for the entire month, a discipline that is thought to burn away all sins (hence the origin of the word 'ramadan'). The Sawm is considered one of the five "pillars," or foundations of Islam, the others being the Shahadah (profession of faith), Salat (praying five times daily), Zakat (charity) and Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca).

When does the festival start?

Ramadan begins with the sighting of the new moon. Because it is calculated according to a lunar rather than a fixed calendar, its precise dates change from year to year, and it can begin at different times in different parts of the world. According to the Fiqh Council of North America, Ramadan started this year on June 28 and will end July 28.

Is there more to Ramadan than fasting?

Yes. As well as eating and drinking, the faithful are expected to abstain from smoking and sexual relations between dawn and dusk, and to abjure lies, slander, greed, covetousness, giving false oath and denouncing someone behind their back (all of these are prohibited throughout the year by Islam. To commit them during Ramadan, however, is considered particularly sinful). Muslims are also expected to recite a special 'night prayer', the taraweeh, in addition to the five daily prayers.

Is every Muslim expected to fast?

No. Young children - before the onset of puberty - are exempted, as are those with an illness or medical condition that would be exacerbated by fasting. If the medical condition is only temporary, the sufferer is required to make up for the days missed once they have recovered. If the condition is permanent, the spiritual benefits of fasting can be obtained by feeding a needy person for a month.

What happens if you break the fast?

If a believer intentionally breaks the fast, or performs any other prohibited activity, they become subject to a penalty, or kaffara (literally, atonement). This can take the form of an extra 60 days of fasting at the end of Ramadan, feeding 60 people in need, or - not quite so easy in the modern world - freeing a slave.

And what happens at the end of Ramadan?

Ramadan officially ends on the first day of the month of Shawwal. This heralds a three-day celebration called Eid al-Fitr, or the "Festival of Breaking Fast", a joyous occasion during which believers attend mosques, give gifts, visit friends and family and decorate their homes.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Eid al-Fitr • Faith • Holidays • Islam • Ramadan • Uncategorized

soundoff (554 Responses)
  1. Ghostriver Studios

    Reblogged this on Ghost River Studios Blog.

    July 14, 2013 at 12:11 pm |
  2. Dr.

    Muhammad was a murderer

    July 14, 2013 at 2:08 am |
    • Ode to poetry

      Was Dr. Mohammed anything like Dr. Kevorkian?

      July 14, 2013 at 3:15 pm |
  3. Is it

    Is it time to throw acid on girls faces again? it comes around so fast.

    July 13, 2013 at 11:23 pm |
  4. Poe Spotting 101

    Not a hypocrite? Of course not. You are a Poe. Well done!

    July 13, 2013 at 8:03 pm |
  5. Fairness

    I do not judge a religion by human behavior, what bothers me about any religion is the lack of any data to back any of them up.

    July 13, 2013 at 7:54 pm |
    • Sultan

      Well if you want data then here is a site for you: http://www.miraclesofthequran.com/index2.php

      July 16, 2013 at 4:58 am |
    • Sultan

      here's a taste of "data" you could find in the quran


      And [I swear by] the moon when it is full, you will mount up stage by stage! What is the matter with them, that they have no faith? (Qur'an, 84:18-20)

      After referring to the Moon, the above verses then say that people will mount up stage by stage. The term tarkabunna comes from the verb rakiba, (to mount, walk on a path, follow, embark upon, set about, participate, or rule). In the light of these meanings, it is very likely that the expression "you will mount up stage by stage" refers to a vehicle to be boarded.

      Indeed, the astronauts' spacecraft pass through each layer of the atmosphere one by one, and then begin to pass through the Moon's gravitational field. Thus, the Moon is reached by moving through individual layers. In addition, the swearing by the Moon in Surat al-Inshiqaq 18 further strengthens this emphasis, meaning that the verse may well be a sign that humanity will travel to the Moon. (Allah knows best.)

      July 16, 2013 at 4:59 am |
      • Sultan

        And there is MUCH more where that came from. I could give you a site id you want

        July 16, 2013 at 5:00 am |
    • peaceman4peace

      People do misguided when they go far from religion, you are right we should not judge a car by its driver.

      July 25, 2013 at 7:44 am |
  6. Akira


    July 13, 2013 at 6:46 pm |
  7. Thought Purification

    by Islamic scholar Hindu-bot, Islam is NOT a religion, but a way of life.

    July 13, 2013 at 6:36 pm |
    • peaceman4peace

      Remember what ALLAH SUBHANA WATALAH says:
      And whoever seeks a religion other than Islam, it will never be
      accepted of him and in the Hereafter he will be one of the losers.
      [Al-Quran 3:85]
      These are the true words of our CREATOR, So here the word of scholar has no value. Hope you understand.

      July 25, 2013 at 7:24 am |
  8. lionlylamb2013


    Your womanly intellect is a refreshing encounter and I am in adornment of your wordage usages,,, I though am but a solitary man whose needs are to take care of my only brother for he has social issues and I try wholeheartedly to keep us both above our nations ever faulty social regulations holding back much needed resources. May your Muslim faith give you pleasurable understandings in your faith-life. Our Godly father of all things created is awesomely grand and He may well have had too many first born sons when in the very beginnings of Creationism, God had to do away with many of them in order for their survival of the most fittest sons to begin building all these celestial creations we know of as suns, and stars and moons and planets,,,

    July 13, 2013 at 6:14 pm |
    • fintronics

      Wow... what a load......... is this where all the ku ku nuts live??

      July 1, 2014 at 2:25 pm |
  9. bostontola

    What is your point? That Churchill abhorred proselytizing religions. Christianity has Islam beat in that account. Your use of a source to make a point about Islam when you disagree with other points in the same quote is a new technique I've never seen. You discredit the source and use it in the same stroke. Wow.

    July 13, 2013 at 4:57 pm |
  10. Tom, Tom, the Other One

    I can see that you feel like Islam is something people should be concerned about, Rainer. Some of us see all religion the way you see Islam.

    July 13, 2013 at 4:48 pm |
  11. copanut

    Khan, I admire you for your patient descriptions of your faith. Good job.

    However, you're wasting your time if you expect converts. No amount of patient explanation will help rational people to adopt irrational beliefs. Yahweh / Allah / Jesus / Satan, and all other human-invented gods are a fiction surrounded by fictional dogma. It's your right to believe in them, of course, but those who weren't brought up in the dogma are highly unlikely to take it seriously.

    July 13, 2013 at 4:36 pm |
    • Shakira

      He isn't trying to convert anyone he is just explaining what Ramadan is for those who don't know.

      July 13, 2013 at 5:08 pm |
  12. lionlylamb2013

    Tragically the idling storm relinquishes its heavily raised burdens giving the rains up to a fondness farewell. The baron wasted lands wreak of its rainy wantonness ever drying the foment of landing appraisals awaiting the vacated acquiescence of a spring like thawing of vesper debasements chicaneries. The pleasures of the seeded landscapes are mooring in waited abstinent frolicking upon the rainy newness to come and be as a bellowing comforter in needs of replenishment. Eat there upon the fruits of seeded garnishments and fill up one's watered vestments. The clouds cry out and teardrops ensue. Alas, the wallflowers are deemed satisfied and life begins once again.

    July 13, 2013 at 4:19 pm |
    • fintronics

      The rainy wantonness to comfortered satisfied land like the fondness to a spring of seeds cry out and land like there mooring storm repleasures of vestment fruits once as arewell. The foments chicaneries. The fruits arewell. The idlinquiescence againy newness to come agains giving upon wally the bell. The foment frolicking apprain waitinents heavily rain Tragicaneries. The seeds wreak of its rainy needed satisfied absting comforter drying in newness to coments rainy wantonness fare mooring in needs

      July 1, 2014 at 2:28 pm |
  13. The Floppy and Stunningly Ineffective Zombie Apocalypse of Cluckles the Boneless Chicken

    You know, requiring your toadies to fast is every bit as absurd and pointless as demanding their foreskins.

    July 13, 2013 at 3:50 pm |
    • Khan

      You have lack of understanding about religion [Islam], you should study Islam.

      July 13, 2013 at 4:10 pm |
    • The Floppy and Stunningly Ineffective Zombie Apocalypse of Cluckles the Boneless Chicken

      When you can provide even the tiniest evidence supporting your superstition, then I will consider it. Otherwise, yours is just another idiotic illusion in this world. Not going to study Thor either.

      July 13, 2013 at 4:17 pm |
      • TrustKnow1

        Your obvious denial of truth is not worth my efforts to enlighten you. The evidence of the Creator is all around you, and the Quran is self-evident if you know what to look for. Good luck with your life!

        The truth is out there... Fight the future!

        July 21, 2013 at 7:48 pm |
    • lionlylamb2013

      Hey there Boneless clucker,

      We Gentiles need more then a healthy does of chicken hearts and gizzards to prattle with,,, Maybe a good slab of calf liver and spring onions with green peppers all sautéed in olive's oil,,, It's chicken chow Mein tonight folks!

      July 13, 2013 at 4:32 pm |
    • The Floppy and Stunningly Ineffective Zombie Apocalypse of Cluckles the Boneless Chicken

      When my opponents can provide nothing but ad hominem, I have won.

      July 13, 2013 at 8:06 pm |
      • Laurence Charles Ringo

        Hey"Boneless Chicken",why does anyone have to be your opponent? I'm willing to wager that like most non-believers,you probably know very few,if any,actual adherents of any of the so-called Abrahamic faiths;it's obvious you've never did any in-depth studies of same.Why don't you try having a calm,non-judgemental conversation with a well-informed member of Christianity,Islam,or Judaism? You may actually discover that we all of us are not your"opponents"(though admittedly some may prove to be,sadly!)-Peace In Christ!!

        July 17, 2013 at 11:42 am |

  14. Muslims seem willing to die for their beliefs. Non-Muslims know it's best to let the sons-of-bitches who want to die for their beliefs do all the dying.

    July 13, 2013 at 3:45 pm |
  15. Khan

    Instead of quoting dead man [Chuchill], who knew nothing about Islam. Why don't read about it? Try studying Koran without getting mad or upset.

    July 13, 2013 at 3:38 pm |
  16. Tom, Tom, the Other One

    I see. Virulent indolent militants.

    July 13, 2013 at 3:26 pm |
  17. lionlylamb2013

    Hello Rainy Braen,,,

    While Churchill was a great orator, his words meant much back in those days but how soon does history tend to overlook such orations,,, For is it not a more wiser ambition to live freely among all religious persuasions and cling ever gently upon one's own independent literacies even though self-indulgence of the religious socialisms may give rises toward individualized dementia?

    July 13, 2013 at 3:23 pm |
  18. Akira

    So you post it twice?
    Spam is verboten. Stop pimping your website. If people were interested, they would click onto you hyperlinked name.
    Stop stealing advertising from CNN.

    July 13, 2013 at 3:15 pm |
  19. freefroggy

    I guess the Muslims in the far north starve to death because the sun never sets there at this time of year!

    July 13, 2013 at 3:13 pm |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      Oh, they'll find an excuse. For the religious, any excuse will do, as is proven in any "debate" with them.

      July 13, 2013 at 3:30 pm |
    • Khan

      They can set the time for their fast and determine the beginning and end of Ramadaan and the times of starting and breaking the fast each day by the dawn and sunset each day in the closest country in which night can be distinguished from day. The Qur'an, in addition to the verse already mentioned, underlines God's mercy by telling us that: "Allah does not tax any being over its capability…"Q2:286. Fasting is not meant to induce starvation and health risk, but to teach TAQWA - conscientiousness and awareness of the Divine.

      July 13, 2013 at 3:49 pm |
    • Saraswati

      The trick is to always plan your Ramadan vacation in an area experiencing a short day.

      July 13, 2013 at 4:03 pm |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      A religion is just a cult with more people/popularity. All gods are myth; yours isn't special. None of them exist.

      July 13, 2013 at 4:41 pm |
    • Khan

      SARASWATI – U r u pukhtana? 🙂

      July 13, 2013 at 5:24 pm |
    • Khan

      SARASWATI – U r pukhtana? 🙂

      July 13, 2013 at 5:24 pm |
    • Athy

      Cpt. O, in a cult, the guy at the top is a maniac. In a religion, the guy at the top is dead.

      July 13, 2013 at 11:32 pm |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      Ha! That's pretty good. I guess it was a good day for Scientology when Hubbard died. I'm visualizing a Super Mario Brother's power up tone and maybe a new twinkle on the church façade.

      July 13, 2013 at 11:45 pm |
    • sam stone

      the god of the christians gave his instructions in a language he knew would become extinct. how smart is this?

      July 14, 2013 at 8:45 am |
  20. Akira

    Stop pinping your website. Spam is verboten.

    July 13, 2013 at 3:13 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.