Histories & Culture

It was during Ramadan that the Prophet Mohammed, in retreat from the town life of Mecca in the rocky hills outside the city, first heard the words that were later written down to form the Qur'an, which Muslims believe to be the word of God.

To commemorate the month of Ramadan, the Qur'an declares it a month of fasting, in which all Muslims are required to abstain from eating, drinking, and sexual activity from dawn until dusk. Dawn is the moment when one can distinguish between a black and a white thread in natural light. Dusk is the setting of the sun, the moment of the call to the fourth prayer of the day.

The fast ends every day with the iftar, breaking the fast with the main meal of the 24-hour period. Most people wake up early the next day to have a light meal called a suhur before the morning light. Those who are sick, those who are on a journey, children under the age of puberty, and pregnant women are excused from the fast.

The iftar gathers the whole family together in a climate of anticipation of the conviviality of the night ahead. The meal is prepared and ready to be served when the call to prayer at sunset is heard from a mosque, or from radio or television. Some municipalities fire a cannon to inform those out of earshot that the time for breaking the fast has come.

Nightlife begins after the meal . Families stay home to watch special programs on TV, visit relatives and friends, or attend cultural activities that are planned for the month. Cairo is famous for its tented city near Khan el Khalili were singing and dancing go on till after midnight. Local arts festivals of Arabic music and theatre also take place.

As Ramadan is a lunar month, it comes forward eleven to twelve days each year. So it moves through the seasons and every thirty years or so it completes a cycle of the solar year. A person might see three such cycles in a lifetime. Being a lunar month also means that Ramadan begins with the sighting of the new moon. Even though this can be scientifically forecast, some communities wait for the sighting, giving Ramadan's arrival a sense of old world unpredictability.