The Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar, months begin when the first crescent of a new moon is sighted. Since the Islamic lunar calendar year is 11 to 12 days shorter than the solar year and contains no intercalation (the insertion of a leap day), Ramadan migrates through the seasons. The Islamic day starts after sunset, and hence, the first day of Ramadan begins with the observations of the Taraweeh prayers in the evening when the new moon is sighted.
However, there is some disagreement between the two main sects of Islam (the Shi'ite and the Sunni) on the exact starting date of Ramadan. The discrepancy is due to differing interpretations of the lunar calendar.
Ramadan is not just about fasting from daybreak to sunset, as is the popular belief in the West. Rather, it is a time when Muslims concentrate on their faith and spend less time on the concerns of their everyday lives. It is a time of worship and contemplation. In many ways, it is similar to Lent, when Christians prepare for the celebration of Easter through fasting, prayer and almsgiving. The Qur'anic directive (ii:183) states: "O believers! Fasting is ordained for you, as it was ordained for those before you, that you may increase in Taqwa." (Taqwa is a term denoting piety, upright behaviour and consciousness of the one God. It patience and perseverance, and fasting is regarded as a help in cultivating these qualities.) The Qur'anic passage also reminds mankind that Islam is not a new doctrine. It is essentially the same message that was stressed by all the previous prophets of God. Fasting, as the verse enunciates, is not a new practice or one exclusive to today's Muslims, but was also recommended by earlier prophets to their own respective communities. Sadly, it is a truth almost banished into oblivion by today's Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
Ramadan should be seen as an opportunity to renew and strengthen oneself. The challenge is not only to curb one's appetite for basic needs, but also to control negative emotional conditions, especially anger, greed, intolerance, arrogance and dishonesty. Ramadan serves as a positive physical challenge each year. Throughout a Muslim’s lifetime, Ramadan falls both during winter months, when the days are short, and summer months, when the days are long and hot. Accordingly, it is a test of devotion, in which physical endurance mirrors the inner spiritual state, which a believer constantly strives to improve.
Moreover, the knowledge that hundreds of millions of Muslims around the world, of many diverse nationalities and ethnic groups, are participating in the same exercise contributes towards creating a powerful sense of global unity.
The end of Ramadan is celebrated with Eid-ul-Fitr (feast of the fast-breaking), a festival that takes place on the first day of the month that follows Ramadan. Eid encapsulates and promotes the Islamic values of family, cohesion, community, optimism and service to God alone. Eid begins with a special prayer in which the whole community comes together. In the true Islamic spirit, the unfortunate are not forgotten, rather, those who can afford it provide a special charity (called Fitra) for the poor and needy so that they can also join in the celebrations. Eid is a day of family gatherings and feasts, community festivals, new clothes and gifts.
Ramadan Mubarak to all my Readers.