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Ramadan 2022: When does it start and everything else you need to know

Middle East Eye answers key questions about the holiest month in the Islamic calendar, including its religious significance and what fasting entails
A Muslim family read the holy Quran as they offer Friday prayers during the month of Ramadan (AFP)

For the world's 1.6 billion Muslims, Ramadan is the most spiritual and revered time of the year.

For followers of Islam, the month is a period of renewal and reflection. Many see it as an opportunity to focus on their relationship with God, and aim to be the best version of themselves. 

The faithful abstain from all forms of food and drink during the daylight hours; observe additional prayers, strive to be more charitable and reconnect with their faith.

The month is an opportunity to make new religious resolutions, which worshippers will hope to continue throughout the year.

Here, Middle East Eye answers some of the most asked questions about the holy month.

What is Ramadan?

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and is the most sacred period of the year for Muslims. It is believed that during this time, God revealed the first verses of the Quran, Islam's holy book, to the Prophet Muhammad. During these weeks, Muslims are expected to fast if they are healthy and able to do so.

Fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam, which form the core of the religon. The other pillars are prayer, the declaration of faith, giving charity and going on the Hajj pilgrimage if the believer is physically and financially able. 

Islam adheres to the lunar calendar. This means that the month of Ramadan begins when the first crescent of a new moon is sighted. Muslim countries will have dedicated state committees that check and officially announce the start date.

For non-Muslim countries, there are different approaches: some will follow a national mosque or reputable Islamic authority, some follow another Muslim country. 

In 2022, Ramadan will start on 2 April and will end on 1 May.

Why does the date of Ramadan change each year?

The lunar calendar, which is followed by Islam, is 10 to 11 days shorter than the modern-day Gregorian calendar, which is based on the Earth’s rotation around the sun. This difference means Ramadan begins on a different day each year. This year it will begin at the start of April; in 10 years time it will begin in mid-January.

Why do Muslims fast?

Muslims believe that through fasting they are able to strengthen their relationship with God. Time is spent participating in acts of worship, such as praying, reading the Quran and giving to charity.

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A man makes dua (supplication) during the month of Ramadan in Karachi, Pakistan (AFP)

Abstaining from food and drink during daylight hours allows Muslims to practise willpower and focus their energy on working on their faith.  

Fasting also allows Muslims to empathise with those who are less fortunate, and be more compassionate to those in need.

Does everyone have to fast?

During Ramadan, all Muslims are expected to fast every day from sunrise to sunset.

Exemptions are made for children and the elderly, and for women who are pregnant, menstruating or nursing, as well as people who are ill or travelling.

What invalidates a fast?

There are numerous ways a fast can be invalidated, including intentionally eating or drinking, intercourse and smoking. A woman cannot fast if she is menstruating. 

One question most Muslims get asked during Ramadan (alongside the infamous gasp of  “not even water?”) is what happens if you eat or drink by mistake? Can you not just take a sneaky swig when no one is looking?

Eating or drinking intentionally invalidates your fast, as the purpose of Ramadan is to practise self-restraint and engage in religious acts.

However, eating or drinking, if it is done through a genuine mistake, does not nullify your fast: followers can continue fasting as normal.

How long will Muslims be fasting for this year?

The length of each day’s fast varies from place to place, depending on the number of daylight hours. It also varies with the time of year.

Take northern Norway: if Ramadan falls one year in December, then each day’s fast will be very short due to the limited amount of daylight near the North Pole at this time.

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An Egyptian family looks at traditional lanterns known in Arabic as "Fanous" sold during Ramadan in Cairo's Sayeda Zainab neighbourhood (AFP)

However, the hours of fasting will increase in the same place during the summer, when there is near-perpetual daylight. In such circumstances there are rulings that allow for the local Muslim population to follow the hours of the nearest Muslim country or Mecca, home to Islam's holiest site, in Saudi Arabia.

Typically, each day of fasting can be as short as 11 hours or as long as 20 hours.

How do Muslims prepare for Ramadan? 

Every family prepares for Ramadan differently. It is often a time for family and friends to get together.

Many will host iftars - the meal which breaks the fast at the end of the day – at home and invite friends. Mosques typically host open iftars when anybody can come by and eat.

ramadan lantern decor Rafah palestine
A Palestinian craftsman shows raditional "fanous" lanterns, a decoration used during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan (AFP)

Many Muslims try to break bad habits before the start of Ramadan, to ease themselves into the month, prepare spiritually and take part in more charitable acts.

What happens on a typical day during Ramadan?

During the month of Ramadan, Muslims will wake before the sun rises to eat a pre-dawn meal called suhoor.

They will then not eat or drink until sunset, when they will have iftar.

Iftar is followed by optional nightly prayers, known as tarawih, which go on into the night, if not into the early hours of the morning.

Prayers usually take place at the mosque in large congregations but Muslims have the option to pray at home, too.

What are some key Ramadan traditions?

Each day’s fast is typically broken by eating dates, which follows the tradition of the prophet.

After this, people will pray Maghrib - one of the five daily prayers - and then sit down to eat. 

ramadan decor streets afp
Ramadan decorations are hung up in Egypt to mark the start of the holy month (AFP)

In many parts of the Middle East, neighbourhoods are decorated with traditional lanterns and banners to welcome the holy month.

In some countries such as Egypt and Turkey, a musaharati will go down the streets with a drum to wake people up for the pre-dawn meal.

What else are Muslims expected to do during Ramadan?

Throughout the holy month, Muslims are expected to engage in charitable acts, one of which is the obligatory zakat al-fitr, which is given at the end of Ramadan but before the Eid prayer.

The significance of the donation is to cleanse the donor from any shortcomings conducted during the month and provide food for the needy.

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This payment is different to the zakat, which can be given at any time of year and is one of the five pillars of Islam. It equates to 2.5 percent of a full year's savings.

In many Middle Eastern countries, Ramadan is prime time for the year's best TV series, showcasing the most dramatic storylines and top celebrities, capitalising on the time people spend waiting for iftar.

However, many people choose the holy month to reduce the hours spent on entertainment, preferring instead to focus on studying the Quran.  

What else are Muslims expected to do during Ramadan?

The last 10 days of Ramadan are especially revered, with a focus on intense worship, as it is believed that the Quran was revealed to the prophet during this period, known as the “night of power”.

As the prophet never specified the exact date of the night, Muslims use those 10 days to increase their spirituality by reading and studying the Quran.

Some Muslims choose to live and sleep in a mosque during this period - known as i'tikaaf - to focus solely on increasing their religious knowledge, staying in separate parts according to gender.

What happens at the end of Ramadan?

At the end of the holy month there is a three-day celebration known as Eid al-Fitr or, more commonly, Eid.

Families will typically wake up early to go and pray in the mosque and greet friends, family and others in the community.

ramadan eid cairo egypt
Muslims perform the Eid al-Fitr prayer, marking the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan, at Old Cairo's historic Amr Ibn al-Aas mosque (AFP)

It is a time of food and festivities, when young children receive presents and homes are decorated to mark the occasion.

Others also use the occasion to visit graveyards and pay their respects to loved ones who have passed away.