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 at its conclusion.
Fasting, or sawm, in Ramadan, is one of the Five Pillars of Islam and each fast lasts from dawn to sunset. As it is based on the lunar cycle, which is shorter than the solar year, the beginning of Ramadan is 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 dawn and ends at sunset.
Suhoor (also known as sehri, sahari, sehur and other variations) means “of the dawn” in Arabic. It is the period just before dawn and the adhan (call) for fajr (the dawn 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 sehri prayer – in Arabic it is ‘Wa bissawmi ghadann nawaitu min shahri 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 prayers (when the sun starts setting) is made.
The fast is broken with a prayer, ‘Allah humma inni laka samtu wa bika amantu wa alaika tawakkaltu wa ‘ala rizkika aftarto’ (O 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 Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) by ending their day’s fast with dates, and then a meal with family, relatives or friends.
* In the UK in 2017, fasting in Ramadan will be about 19 hours each day depending on your location. Please check with your local mosque or appropriate Islamic centre for suhoor and iftar times.