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The history, significance of Ramadan around the world

Millions of Muslims around the world will observe Ramadan. And as the UAE welcomes this special time of year, Gulf News takes a look at the history, meaning and significance of this important event

Image Credit: AHMED RAMZAN/Gulf News
A man praying outside Al Noor Mosque in Sharjah before Isha Prayer following Taraweeh prayer on the ocassion of the Holy month of Ramadan. The Dubai Events and Promotions Establishment (DEPE) has unveiled its programmes for the second ‘Ramadan in Dubai’ campaign.

Dubai  Millions of Muslims around the world will observe Ramadan. And as the UAE welcomes this special time of year, Gulf News takes a look at the history, meaning and significance of this important event.

Ramadan is considered the holiest month of the Islamic calendar as it commemorates Allah sending the Archangel Jibril (Gabriel) to the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) to convey to him the first verses of the Quran.

Every Muslim who is past the age of puberty and mentally and physically fit and observes the month, must fast.

The fast starts from dawn and is indicated by the Al Fajr prayer (morning prayer). It ends at dusk and is marked by the Al Maghrib prayer (prayer at sunset). This daily fasting routine carries on every day for the entire month.

There are a few categories of people who do not have to fast.

People with psychological problems (mentally unstable), children under the age of puberty, the elderly, the sick, travellers and pregnant women or nursing mothers are all exempt.
Instead, they are required to feed at least one poor person a day or pay charity money that is equivalent to feeding one, for every fast they missed.

Women on their monthly period are also exempt but must start fasting again once this is over.

Although children are not obliged, many do observe the fast as an exercise.

Usually parents ease their children into the tradition by making them fast for half the day, or for as long as they can, until the child can get through the entire fasting day.  

Fasting crucial 

Fasting is crucial during Ramadan as it is one of the Five Pillars (duties) of Islam and was made obligatory in Ramadan in the second year of Al Hijra.

Al Hijra, which means “the migration”, is when the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) and his followers migrated from Makkah, his hometown to Madinah to escape his tribe’s harm and torture. 

Fasting is meant to humble oneself and increase moral discipline as well as serve as a reminder of the plight of those less fortunate who live in hunger and deprivation.

It also has many health benefits as it helps the body to detoxify and speeds up the healing process as the energy usually used for digestion is diverted towards metabolism and the immune system.  

Muslims try to spend more time praying, saying Dua’a (invocations), reciting the Quran and giving more to charity during the month, as the rewards of good deeds at this time are multiplied.

During the month, Muslims aspire to become more pious, generous and good to others while exercising self-discipline.

For this reason, Ramadan’s fast is more than just a food fast.

Fasters should abstain from food, drinks and sexual activities during fasting hours. Negative behaviour such as lying or using foul or insulting language is forbidden in Islam in general, but is a graver sin in the days of Ramadan.

Free iftar tents are set up next to most mosques in the UAE and across the world, so that no one stays hungry when ending their fast.

Every Muslim is also required to give to charity a set amount of money called Zakat Al Fitr at the end of Ramadan. This money is meant to be used to help those less fortunate to buy new clothes and food so they can celebrate Eid.

Ramadan is all about caring, sharing, family and getting closer to Allah.

Families and friends get together over iftar and suhour. Iftar is the meal eaten after sunset or when the Al Maghreb prayer sounds. It is the meal that ends the fast and is the main meal of the day. Suhour is the meal taken before sunrise, which is before the Al Fajr (dawn) prayer. It is the last meal before the fast starts.

Also unique to Ramadan, is the Taraweeh prayers. They are special night prayers held after the Isha prayer (night prayer).

Another common ritual of Ramadan is reciting the Quran. In some countries, Ramadan is marked by colourful lanterns that decorate houses, streets and shopping centres.


Ramadan lanterns, come in all sizes, colours and types.

Many Muslims  also flock to Makkah for the Ramadan Umrah. Umrah is one of the two kinds of pilgrimages Muslims make, the other being Haj.

The last ten days of Ramadan are very important to Muslims as they seek to observe Laylat Al Qadr (The Night of Power).  Laylat Al Qadr is supposed to be the night when the Quran was revealed to the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH). Muslims devote more of their time for non-obligatory prayers, Dua’a and Quran recitals during those last ten days.

After Ramadan ends, Muslims celebrate the three day festival of Eid Al Fitr, which literally translates into “The Festival of Breaking the Fast.”

Home-made sweets

Muslims wear their best clothes, prepare food and sweets and spend these days with family and friends.  

The Special Eid prayer is performed in the morning and is held in congregations in mosques or open areas. After the prayer is over, people get together in parks or at each others' houses.

Children are usually given gifts or cash during Eid from family and friends.

Mothers often send their children with gifts of home-made sweets and platters to neighbours as part of the celebrations marking the end of Ramadan.