Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, which is based on the lunar cycle and lasts 29 or 30 days, depending on the sighting of the new moon as its conclusion.
Fasting, or sawm, in Ramadan, is one of the Five Pillars of Islam, and each fast lasts from dawn to sunset. Being based on the lunar cycle, which is shorter than the solar year, the beginning of Ramadan falls approximately 10 to 11 days earlier each year.*
The start of the holy month is signalled by the sighting of the new moon. The first fast begins a few hours later, just before sunrise, and ends at sunset.
Suhoor means “meal of the dawn” in Arabic. It is the period just before dawn and the Fajr adhan (call to morning prayer) when the pre-fast meal should be taken. If a person is still eating when the call to prayer has finished, the act of fasting is disqualified.
Muslims recite a suhoor prayer with the intention to fast – in Arabic it is ‘Wa bis’sawmi gha’dinn na’waitu min shah’ri Ramadan’ (I intend to keep the fast tomorrow for the month of Ramadan) - to mark the beginning of their fast.
The fast ends at iftar, when the call to Maghrib prayer is made as the sun begins to set.
The fast is broken with a prayer, ‘Allah humma inni laka samtu wa bika amantu wa alaika tawakkaltu wa ‘ala rizkika aftarto’ (Oh Allah! I fasted for You and I believe in You - and I put my trust in You - and I break my fast with Your sustenance).
Many follow the tradition of the Holy Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) by ending their fast with dates followed by a modest meal with family, relatives or friends.
* In the UK, fasting during Ramadan 2018 will amount to approximately 19 hours each day depending on your location. Please check with your local mosque or appropriate Islamic centre for suhoor and iftar times.