Posted: Jun 27, 2014 8:00 AM
Ramadan is a major Islamic holiday, a month-long observance that includes sunrise to sunset fasting. Discover facts and common misconceptions about Ramadan and how to help kids talk with their friends about the holiday.
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Quick facts about Ramadan

  • Ramadan takes place during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. The calendar is a lunar calendar — new months begin with the sighting of each new moon. Since lunar calendars are shorter than the Gregorian calendar, Ramadan "moves" around the calendar and doesn't always take place at the same time of year.
  • Charity and generosity are aspects of Ramadan that help observers share their blessings with those in need.
  • Fasting is a crucial part of the religious observance, giving Muslims the opportunity to practice self-discipline and reflection on their blessings and those less fortunate.
  • Muslims increase their spiritual readings from the Qur'an during Ramadan, with some mosques reading a thirtieth of the scripture each evening.
  • Ramadan is considered one of the "five pillars" of Islam. The pillars refer to the five most basic beliefs of the Muslim faith.

The purpose of daylight fasting

The month-long daylight fast requires able-bodied adults — pregnant, nursing and menstruating women are exempt — to abstain from food and drink from sunrise to sundown. The fast is a physical reminder of the meaning behind Ramadan: self-reflection, evaluation of one's religious life and a figurative cleanse in all areas of life. Ramadan is an opportunity for Muslims to let go of negative habits, thoughts and feelings, including forgiveness between those who have wronged each other. The Arabic word for fasting means "to refrain," so fasters aren't only required to abstain from food but are to refrain from negative thoughts and actions.

Children and fasting

Young children are exempt from fasting during Ramadan. There aren't strict guidelines as to the ages of those who must fast, and many families introduce fasting to children as a gradual practice. Children may be asked to abstain from snacks, then a single meal and so forth, until they are able to tolerate the complete day of missing meals and beverages.

The celebratory nature of Ramadan

Though much ado is made of the fasting element of the religious observance, Ramadan is about more than spiritual cleansing. After sunset, families and community members gather for a nightly meal — called "iftar." The meal is often started with dates or another sweet food, in part because of the quick energy they provide. Relationships are strengthened during these celebrations — strengthening relationship bonds is an important part of Ramadan's purpose. Ramadan ends with a festival called Eid al-Fitr, one of the two most important religious days in the Islamic faith.

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