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Explainer: What is Ramadhan? The do's and don'ts

 Muslim faithful at Jamia mosque in Kisumu County. [Collins Oduor, Standard]

Ramadhan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar and is considered the holiest month for Muslims.

During this period, Muslims observe a period of fasting, prayer, and reflection from dawn to sunset. Fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam.

It is during the holy month when the first verses of the Quran were revealed to Prophet Muhammad.

Who sights the moon?

Moon sighting is performed by trained observers and verified by Islamic scholars who search for the crescent moon on the 29th day of the preceding lunar month.

If the moon is sighted, then the new month begins the next day.

If the moon is not sighted, then the current month continues for another day, and the search for the moon continues on the 30th day.

Once the sighting is confirmed, the beginning of Ramadhan is announced, and Muslims all over the world begin their fast.

Similarly, the end of Ramadhan is announced after the sighting of the crescent moon of Shawwal, after which Muslims celebrate the holiday of Eid al-Fitr.

What prayers are involved during fasting?

During Ramadhan, Muslims wake up early before dawn to eat a pre-dawn meal called Suhoor, and they break their fast at sunset with a meal known as Iftar.

In addition to fasting, they also perform extra prayers during Ramadhan. The night prayer, known as Taraweeh, is a special prayer performed after the Isha prayer.

They are encouraged to spend more time reading the Quran during the fasting period and try to complete reading the entire Quran during the month.

Why the last ten days of Ramadhan are important

The last ten days of Ramadhan are considered especially important because they include the Night of Power (Laylat al-Qadr in Arabic), which is believed to be the holiest night of the year.

It is believed that during this night, the first verses of the Quran were revealed to the Prophet Muhammad.

Interestingly, the night of power is said to occur during one of the odd-numbered nights in the last ten days of Ramadhan, although the exact date is not known.

Muslims believe that worship and good deeds performed during this night are better than those performed during a thousand months (83 years and 4 months) of regular worship.

What signifies the beginning and end of Ramadhan?

The moon has to be sighted to mark the beginning and the end of Ramadhan.

Moon sighting is the process of observing the crescent moon since the Islamic calendar is based on the lunar cycle, and the beginning of each month is determined by the sighting of the crescent moon.

Similarly, the end of Ramadan is determined by the sighting of the crescent moon of the next lunar month, also known as Shawwal.

Who is allowed to fast?

Fasting is obligatory for all adult Muslims who are physically and mentally able to fast. This includes individuals who have reached puberty and are in good health.

However, there are some exceptions to the obligation of fasting during the holy month, among them; children who have not yet reached puberty. However, they may be encouraged to fast for a few hours a day to prepare them for the full fast later in life.

Pregnant women, those on menstruation periods and nursing mothers are not required to fast if they fear for their own health or the health of their child. However, they are required to make up for the missed fasts at a later time.

The sick or those who have a chronic medical condition that would make fasting dangerous or significantly impact their health are exempt from fasting.

Travelers are also exempt from fasting if it would cause undue hardship or difficulty. However, they are required to make up the missed fasts at a later time. However, this does not prevent them in participating in other aspects of the month, such as prayer and charity.

Foods to eat during Ramadhan

In order to maintain good health and energy, it is important to eat nutritious and healthy food during Ramadhan.

Those fasting are encouraged to eat a balanced meal, fruits and drink plenty of water and other fluids to stay hydrated, especially during the non-fasting hours.

What is forbidden during Ramadhan?

During fasting, Muslims abstain from food, drink, smoking, and other physical needs including sex.

The fast is broken with a meal called Iftar, which is usually shared with family and friends. Muslims are also encouraged to perform extra prayers during Ramadhan, to read the Quran, and to give to charity.

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