Ramadan will start with the first confirmed sighting of a new moon.

5 things you should know about Ramadan, Islam’s holy month of fasting

Muslims around the globe are observing the holy month of Ramadan, which began for most on either Thursday, April 23 or Friday, April 24.

Throughout the holiday, observers fast from sunrise to sunset and partake in nightly feasts.

» RELATED: Major mosques will remain closed during Ramadan

Here are five things to know about Islam’s sacred month:

What is Ramadan?

The Islamic Center of America mosque in Dearborn, Michigan.
Photo: Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, is the holy month of fasting, spiritual reflection and prayer for Muslims.

It is believed to be the month in which the Prophet Muhammad revealed the holy book — Quran — to Muslims.

The word “Ramadan” itself is taken from the Arabic word, “ramad,” an adjective describing something scorchingly dry or intensely heated by the sun.

» RELATED: Muslims in America, by the numbers

When is Ramadan?

Indonesian Muslims hold a Rukyatul Hilal to see the new crescent moon that determines the end of Ramadan.
Photo: Robertus Pudyanto/Getty Images

The Islamic calendar is based on the moon’s cycle and not the sun’s (what the Western world uses), so the dates vary year to year.

By the Gregorian solar calendar, Ramadan is 10 to 12 days earlier every year.

In 2020, Ramadan will start on Thursday, April 23 or Friday, April 24 and last through Saturday, May 23.

Last year, the first day of Ramadan in the United States was Sunday, May 5 or Monday, May 6 depending on the country.

To determine when exactly the holy month will begin, Muslim-majority countries look to local moon sighters, according to Al Jazeera.

In some countries, such as Saudi Arabia, special infrared cameras are used to capture the new moon.

According to Forbes, the new moon was born at 3:27 a.m. Coordinated Universal Time on April 23. That translates to 11:30 p.m. EST on April 22. At that moment, “when the Moon is between Earth and the Sun sees the far side of the Moon illuminated,” Forbes said, “no-one on Earth can see anything of the Moon.” A few hours later, however, a very slim crescent moon will appear for those who have yet to see it.

Al Jazeera reports the United States and Europe are likely to begin observing Thursday, while beginning fasting Friday. Muslim nations including the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Lebenon, Qatar, Syria, Indonesia and Morocco are also likely to begin fasting starting Friday.

With this year’s observance occurring amid the coroanvirus pandemic, traditional activities will be cut in Muslim-majority nations around the world, the website reported.

The lunar months last between 29 and 30 days, depending on the sighting of the moon on the 29th night of each month. If the moon is not visible, the month will last 30 days.

» RELATED: 5 inspiring quotes from iconic Muslim women to celebrate #MuslimWomensDay 

What do Muslims do during Ramadan and why?

Muslim women gather for a special Eid ul-Fitr morning prayer at the Los Angeles Convention Center in Los Angeles, California.
Photo: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Ramadan is known as the holy month of fasting, with Muslims abstaining from eating and drinking from sunrise to sunset.

Fasting during the holiday is one of the Five Pillars of Islam, along with the daily prayer, declaration of faith, charity and performing the Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia.

More than 1,400 years ago, according to Al Jazeera, Muslims were commanded to fast during Ramadan.

The fast is intended to remind Muslims of the suffering of those less fortunate and bring believers closer to God (Allah, in Arabic). 

During the month, Muslims also abstain from habits such as smoking, caffeine, sex, and gossip; this is seen as a way to both physically and spiritually purify oneself while practicing self-restraint.

Here’s what a day of fasting during Ramadan is like:

  • Muslims have a predawn meal called the “suhoor.”
  • Then, they fast all day until sunset.
  • At sunset, Muslims break their fast with a sip of water and some dates, the way they believe the Prophet Muhammad broke his fast more than a thousand years ago.
  • After sunset prayers, they gather at event halls, mosques or at home with family and friends in a large feast called “iftar."

» RELATED: Photos of famous Muslim Americans

How is the end of Ramadan celebrated?

A girl blows bubbles during an Eid celebration in London, England.
Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Toward the end of the month, Muslims celebrate Laylat al-Qadr or “the Night of Power/Destiny” — a day observers believe Allah sent the Angel Gabriel to the Prophet Muhammad to reveal the Quran’s first verses.

On this night, which falls on one of the last 10 nights of Ramadan, Muslims practice intense worship as they pray for answers and seek forgiveness for any sins.

To mark the end of Ramadan, determined by the sighting of the moon on the 29th night of Ramadan, a 3-day celebration called Eid al-Fitr brings families and friends together in early morning prayers followed by picnics, feasts and fun. In 2019, Eid al-Fitr is likely to fall on Sunday, May 24.

Does every Muslim fast during Ramadan?

Seventeen months -old Pakistani Muslim Ali Khaja gives his hat to his grandfather Ahsan Khaja before for the special 2011 Eid ul-Fitr morning prayer in Los Angeles, California.
Photo: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

According to most interpreters of the Quran, children, the elderly, the ill, pregnant women, women who are nursing or menstruating, and travelers are exempt from fasting.

Some interpreters also consider intense hunger and thirst as well as compulsion (someone threatening another to do something) exceptions.

But as an entirety, whether Muslims fast or not often depends on their ethnicity and country.

Many Muslims in Muslim-majority countries, for example, observe the month-long fast during Ramadan, according to 2012 data from the Pew Research Center.

In fact, in Saudi Arabia, Muslims and non-Muslims can be fined or jailed for eating in public during the day, according to the Associated Press.

But in the United States and in Europe, many Muslims are accepting of non-observers.

According to 2017 data from Pew researchers, eight-in-ten U.S. Muslims said they fast during the holiday.

The Pew survey found that more Muslim adults in America fast during Ramadan than say they pray five times a day or attend mosque every week. Additionally, far more women reported fasting during the holy month than wearing the hijab.

More from the Pew survey.

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