The Islamic holy month of Ramadan begins tonight at sundown. The devout among the world’s estimated 1.6 billion Muslims will fast every day from sunrise to sundown for the next 30 days.
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. Like the Jewish calendar, the Muslim calendar is a lunar one. This is why Ramadan begins at the same time as the new Hebrew month of Tammuz. Tonight will mark the first night of the new moon.
But unlike the Hebrew calendar, the Muslim one has no leap years. This is why Ramadan falls out earlier each year. The lunar calendar has 11 fewer days than the solar one. When taking the solar leap years into account, it takes about 37 years for the Muslim and solar calendars to realign and for Ramadan to fall out at the same time on the solar calendar again.
According to Islam.About.com, during Ramadan, “Muslims are called upon to use this month to re-evaluate their lives in light of Islamic guidance. We are to make peace with those who have wronged us, strengthen ties with family and friends, do away with bad habits — essentially to clean up our lives, our thoughts, and our feelings. The Arabic word for “fasting” (sawm) literally means “to refrain” – and it means not only refraining from food and drink, but from evil actions, thoughts, and words.”
“During Ramadan, every part of the body must be restrained. The tongue must be restrained from backbiting and gossip. The eyes must restrain themselves from looking at unlawful things. The hand must not touch or take anything that does not belong to it. The ears must refrain from listening to idle talk or obscene words. The feet must refrain from going to sinful places. In such a way, every part of the body observes the fast.”
“Therefore, fasting is not merely physical, but is rather the total commitment of the person’s body and soul to the spirit of the fast.”