Ramadan observations are included in the Five Pillars of Islam. Those basic acts are shahada (professing one’s faith), salat (prayer), zakat (giving to charity), sawm (fasting) and hajj (making a pilgrimage to Mecca).
Muslims observe the holiday by fasting from food and drink between
dawn and dusk, as well as avoiding immoral behavior and thoughts. As
fasting focuses the mind, celebrants are encouraged to think of others.
Many of the faithful read or listen to recitations of the Qu’ran during
The observations and rituals take planning. Before dawn, people eat a
meal called suhur to prepare them for fasting, followed by prayer.
After sunset and the call to evening prayer, Muslims often begin the
iftar meal by eating three dates—said to be Mohammed’s way of breaking
“A few weeks prior to Ramadan starting, I start looking at meal
preparation because I don’t like to do a lot of cooking during Ramadan.
So I need to plan out what I’ll be eating prior to sunrise and then what
I’ll be eating to break my fast. I also arrange my day so I complete my
five-times-a-day prayers on time and read the Qu’ran on a daily basis. I
also give charity every day during Ramadan. I plan ahead and send money
to organizations via mail and online. During Ramadan, opportunities
arise and charity can be given right then.” —Mahnaz Shabbir, diversity
speaker and consultant, Shabbir Advisors
During Ramadan, the spiritual rewards of good behavior are believed
to be multiplied—so abstaining from food and drink isn’t the only
discipline Muslims adhere to. They focus their energies on prayer.
“Muslims fast in the month of Ramadan by not eating or drinking
from sunrise to sunset. It does not mean that Muslims abstain from food
only. It also means that we are at our best behavior, which really means
no lying, cussing, cheating or showing temper. I think we are all human
beings and with the passage of time we drift from our good behavior.
The month of Ramadan brings us back to the right track.” —Seema Ahmed,
proud Naano (grandmother)
Ramadan traditions bring Muslims together—wherever they are—to focus on their most strongly held beliefs.
“My memories are when the family gathers in the wee hours before
sunrise to start our fasts. When my children were younger, they weren’t
required to fast due to their age. Yet they would hear the early morning
activity in the kitchen and want to join us. They would ‘start’ and by
10 am they were eating.” —Mahnaz Shabbir
“When I was little, I wanted to fast with my family. I recall
chugging water ’til our stomachs hurt so we can last without water and
food all day until about 7:30 PM. We never could make it ’til the end
back then and ended up breaking fast around lunch time. I recall the
sense of accomplishment I felt the first time I was able to fast all
day. I was 9 years old. I also remember when I was 13 years old, I
fasted the entire month of Ramadan for the first time. Each of my three
kids have had the same request ever since they were little, and they
have already told me that they want to fast with me this year. So the
Lodhi family tradition continues.” —Sam Lodhi, Hallmark Manager
In the United States, where somewhere between 3.5 to 7 million Muslims live (with the population expected to grow),
families might enjoy iftar in their own homes or with large groups at
mosques or community centers. Since 1996, the White House has hosted
iftar for community leaders and international visitors.
Ramadan ends with Eid al-Fitr,
the Festival of Breaking the Fast, when the sighting of the crescent
moon begins the next month of the lunar calendar. During this religious
holiday, no fasting is allowed—Eid al-Fitr is a time for giving thanks
to Allah, expressing joy for and gathering with friends and family.
Find out more about Eid al-Fitr (pronounced eed uhl-FEE-truh).