Muslims around the world are preparing for the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, a month of intense prayer, dawn-to-dusk fasting and nightly feasts.
Ramdan, the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, may be 29 or 30 days long. An Islamic month begins with the sighting of the new crescent in the western horizon, immediately after sunset.
Muslims look toward the western horizon for the new moon on the 29th day of Shaban, the eighth month. If the new moon is sighted, Ramadan has begun with the sunset but fasting begins with the next dawn. If the new moon is not sighted on this 29th day, Muslims complete 30 days of Shaban and Ramadan begins the following day.
It is believed that the Quran was first revealed to Muhammad during the month of Ramadan which has been referred to as the "best of times".
The month-long fast involves abstinence from food, liquids, smoking, and sexual intercourse between the hours of sunrise and sunset, but at night the holiday has turned into a feast in many Arab countries, each of which has its favorite special Ramadan foods and recipes. The pre-dawn meal before the fast is called the suhur, while the meal at sunset that breaks the fast is the iftar.
The fast is intended to bring the faithful closer to God and to remind them of the suffering of those less fortunate.
The end of Ramadan is marked by intense worship as there is a three-day festival of prayer and feasting known as Eid al-Fitr. Special sweet dishes are prepared, giving the festival its other name of Sweet Id. Charitable giving is also encouraged. Muslims give thanks to Allah for enabling them to perform their duty of fasting, and there is much visiting and exchange of gifts, including food, with family and friends.