Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calender. The Islamic calender is a lunar calender and so is 11 days shorter than the solar calender. Hence the month of Ramadan moves forward every year by approximately 10-11 days. It takes about 33 years and five days for Ramadan to complete a twelve month move across the yearly calendar. The word Ramadan comes from the Arabic root ramiḍa or ar-ramaḍ, which means scorching heat or dryness.
In Islam, Ramadan is the most important month as the initial verses of the Holy Quran were first revealed to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in this month. Each day during this month, Muslims all over the world abstain from eating, drinking, smoking, as well as participating in anything that is ill-natured or excessive; from dawn until the sun sets. Fasting is intended to educate the Muslim in spirituality, humility and patience. It is a time to cleanse the soul, focus attention on God, and put into practice selflessness. The first three days of the next month, Shawwal, is spent in celebrations and is observed as the "Festival of Breaking Fast" or Eid ul-Fitr.
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. Hence, fasting is not merely physical, but spiritual as well.
The ongoing Ramadan (started 11th July 2013 in India) is my first full fledged Ramadan. We have completed 21 days of fasting tonight. The fast starts after having Sehri (early morning meal) and ends with Iftar (fast breaking meal at sunset). The fasting continues for 29-30 days, depending on the sighting of the crescent moon.
It is said that the month of Ramadan is a gift of God to all his believers. With this month, every year the Almighty gives his people a chance to cleanse their souls and straighten their paths. It is said that throughout this month, the gates of Heaven are kept open, the gates of Hell are kept closed and the devils are chained up. The rewards of doing good in this month is 10 times, 70 times and even up to 700 times. The scientific benefits of fasting during this month include increased mental focus, detoxification, lower cholesterol, improved metabolism, ditching of bad habits, etc. With all the blessings, goodness, cleansing and festivities, the month of Ramadan is truly a gift.