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In PHOTOS: Ramzan, the month of fasting

Last updated on: August 12, 2011 08:41 IST

Ramzan, the month of fasting

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Rediff Newsdesk

Muslim men and women across the world are observing the month-long celebration of self-purification and restraint.

During Ramzan, the holiest month in the Islamic lunar calendar, the Muslim community fasts, abstaining from food, drink, smoking and sex between sunrise and sunset.

During this time, Muslims are also encouraged to read the entire Quran, to give freely to those in need, and strengthen their ties to God through prayer. The goal of the fast is to teach humility, patience and sacrifice, and to ask forgiveness, practice self-restraint, and pray for guidance in the future.

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Image: A Muslim man attends an evening prayer called Tarawih in Cairo
Photographs: Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters
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Ramzan, the month of fasting

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The word Ramzan comes from the Arabic root word for parched thirst and sun-baked ground.

It is expressive of the hunger and thirst felt by those who spend the month in fasting. As opposed to other holidays, when people often indulge, Ramzan is by nature a time of sacrifice.

The annual fast of Ramzan is considered one of the five "pillars" of Islam.

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Image: A young boy runs to take part in a prayer at Strasbourg's new Grand Mosque
Photographs: Vincent Kessler/Reuters
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Ramzan, the month of fasting

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Ramzan gains it significance from the momentous Islamic events, which took place in it.

Although historically many great and decisive encounters took place during this blessed month, it is most notoriously appreciated as the time of the final communication between God and humans.

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Image: Muslims leave after their Iftar (fast-breaking) meal at the Jama Masjid in Old Delhi
Photographs: Adnan Abidi/Reuters
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Ramzan, the month of fasting

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In this month, Allah revealed the Quran (the final Holy Scripture) through the angel Gabriel to the last Prophet, Muhammad.

It is believed that this revelation was the final link in the chain of divine communication, which includes the Commandments of Moses, the Psalms of David, the Scrolls of Abraham and the Gospel of Jesus.

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Image: A Nepalese Muslim prays in Kathmandu
Photographs: Navesh Chitrakar/Reuters
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Ramzan, the month of fasting

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A day in the month of Ramzan commences with the intention to Fast, waking up for the beneficial pre dawn meal (Suhoor), followed by the first daily prayer of Fajr, which is when the fasting commences.

The Dhuhr (midday) prayer is followed by Asr (afternoon) prayer. People are encouraged to make Supplication (Dua), Remembrance of Allah (Thikr) and to recite the Quran throughout the day. Fasting concludes at sunset with the Maghreb prayer and the breaking of fast with a meal (Iftar).

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Image: A woman prepares iftar, the evening meal for breaking fast, in the courtyard of her home in Islamabad
Photographs: Insiya Syed/Reuters
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Ramzan, the month of fasting

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Restaurants and shops are open throughout the night.

Laughter and loud conversations fill the air. Houses are refurnished, draperies are changed and dusty prayer mats are cleaned.

The mood is festive and the streets come alive with activity towards the evenings.

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Image: A whirling dervish performs before Iftar in Istanbul
Photographs: Murad Sezer/Reuters
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Ramzan, the month of fasting

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During Ramzan, 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.

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Image: A Nepalese Muslim reads the Quran in Kathmandu
Photographs: Navesh Chitrakar/Reuters
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Ramzan, the month of fasting

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It is recommended that at least one full reading of the Quran from cover to cover must be completed during Ramzan. The words of the Quran are primarily divided by chapter (surah) and verse (ayat). The chapters vary in length, and generally are ordered from longest to shortest.

To ease the reading process, the Quran is additionally divided into 30 equal sections, called called a juz' (plural: ajiza). The divisions of juz' do not fall evenly along chapter lines, and often break from one section to another in the middle of a chapter.

These divisions are done to make it easier for one to pace the reading over a month's period, reading a fairly equal amount each day.

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Image: Men break their fast in a mosque at Umdowan Ban village outside Khartoum, Sudan
Photographs: Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah/Reuters
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Ramzan, the month of fasting

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Ramzan is actually a time of increased activity wherein the believer, now lightened of the burdens of constant eating and drinking, should be more willing to strive and struggle for Allah.

Thus, although Muslims abstain from eating, drinking and intimate relations with their spouse during the daylight hours, this freed up time is spend on contemplation and utilized to increase their faith by actively increasing in worship. 

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Image: Muslims eat Iftar at a mosque in Ahmedabad
Photographs: Amit Dave/Reuters
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Ramzan, the month of fasting

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In this way, perceiving Ramzan as a time of heightened activity challenges the misconception about fasting being an excuse to go into a state of semi-hibernation.

All in all, it is an opportunity for spiritual as well as physical purification.

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Image: A Muslim woman tries to cool down with water in front of the Dome of the Rock on the compound known to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif and to Jews as Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City
Photographs: Ammar Awad/Reuters
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Ramzan, the month of fasting

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Fasting is a complete purification and a means to developing the consciousness of Allah's presence.

It allows a believer to draw closer to their Lord, as God opens the doors of Mercy during this month.

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Image: A man walks with a tray of donated food to serve to men breaking fast in the month of Ramadan in Lahore
Photographs: Mohsin Raza/Reuters
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Ramzan, the month of fasting

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Furthermore, the physical discipline heightens an inner discipline whereby a person can become in control of their base and primitive, hunger, thirst and sexual desires. 

In this increasingly materialistic world, Ramzan enables a believer to aspire to more lofty and intangible goals. In this way they will learn to become less attached to this worldly life and cultivate for what's to come.

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Image: A defected soldier who has joined sides with anti-regime protesters to demand the ouster of Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh, reads a Koran at a checkpoint in Taghyeer (Change) Square in Sanaa
Photographs: Jumana El Heloueh/Reuters
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Ramzan, the month of fasting

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A crucial factor in developing this awareness is appreciating the bounties one has and learning the true meaning of contentment and gratification.

No longer does the self covet more, rather it learns to appreciate blessings.

This is not only a mental appreciation but the believer physically feels for the poor and needy, by experiencing to some degree what they feel. 

Naturally, this makes one become more benevolent and generous. Charity -- an Islamically obligatory act- thus reaches a heightened new level, whereby the joy is of the donor precedes that of the recipient.

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Image: A student reads the Koran at the mosque before morning prayer at the Al-Mukmin Islamic boarding school in Solo, Indonesia
Photographs: Beawiharta/Reuters
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Ramzan, the month of fasting

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The date of Ramzan varies every year, A lunar month is approximately 29.5 days, which is the time it takes for the moon to orbit the earth.

Because a lunar month is, on the average, one day shorter than a solar month, a lunar year is 10-12 days shorter than a solar year. Therefore, Ramzan comes 10-12 days earlier each year.

This way Muslims get to fast when the days are very warm and long in summer as well as when they are cool and short in winter.

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Image: Muslim women attend mass prayer session Tarawih at Al Akbar mosque in Surabaya, East Java, Indonesia
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Ramzan, the month of fasting

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Eid ul-Fitr marks the end of Ramzan and the first day of the Islamic month of Shawwal.

Many Muslims attend communal prayers and listen to a khutba or sermon on the first day of the month of Shawwal. These prayers are held outside or in large venues, such as sports arenas, in some places.

Many Muslims may travel far to participate in these activities. Some communities organize different festivities, such as communal meals or events for children, on this day.

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Image: A student reads the Koran before morning prayer at the Al-Mukmin Islamic boarding school in Solo, Indonesia
Photographs: Beawiharta/Reuters
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If a Muslim has not given zakat al-fitr during Ramzan, he or she can give this on Eid-al-Fitr. Zakat al-fitr is a form of charity consisting of a quantity of food, such as barley, dates, raisins or wheat flour, or its monetary equivalent given to the poor.

Many Muslims may also prepare festive meals to share, wear new clothes, visit relatives and give presents or candy to children.

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Image: A vendor, selling corn, waits for customers after iftar in Beylikduzu, a district of Istanbul
Photographs: Osman Orsal/Reuters
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