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By Charlie Keenan

Egyptian women decorate their daughters with ballons after peforming morning prayers of Eid al-Fitr, the end of the Islamic month of Ramadan.
Photo: AP/Wide World
Ramadan is the ninth month in the Muslim calendar and, according to Islamic belief, the month during which Allah (God) delivered the Koran to the prophet Mohammed. During Ramadan, Muslims (followers of Islam) do not eat or drink during the day. This is called fasting.

Muslims believe that fasting cleanses the body and soul and brings them closer to God. As they resist the physical urges of hunger and thirst, they develop self-discipline and patience. Fasting also enables Muslims to sympathize with underprivileged people and to better appreciate God’s gifts. In addition to fasting during Ramadan, Muslims strengthen their religious beliefs by going to mosques, studying the Koran, and reciting prayers.

Ramadan begins with the sighting of the new moon. Then, all Muslims past the age of puberty (with some exceptions permitted) fast from dawn until dusk. There is usually a pre-fast meal (suh[lumacr]r) before sunrise and a post-fast meal (ift[lamacr]r) after sunset. The 27th night of Ramadan is the Laylat al-Qadr, or Night of Power. According to Islam, this is the night when God gave the first verses of the Koran to Mohammed, as well as the night when God decides what will happen in the world in the year to come.

The end of Ramadan is celebrated with Id-al-Fitr, the Festival of Breaking the Fast. Id-al-Fitr is like the Christian holiday of Christmas. People pray in mosques, visit with family and friends, and exchange gifts.