The ninth month of the Muslim calendar is a month of fasting – the month of Ramadan. Throughout the month, all Muslims are obligated to fast from sunrise to sunset in order to ensure that all of the faithful can concentrate on reaffirming their faith, to consider their sins and to purify themselves from the material world and to pray for forgiveness fortheir sins. 

Abstention from the material needs of the world is the path that brings the believer closer to God and to a toning for their sins.
The start of the Muslim fast is on the day known as Ashura – the tenth day of the first month, which corresponds to the Day of Atonement – the Jewish day of fasting which begins on the tenth of Tishrei. After a short stay in the city of Medina, the fast changed to a month long fast – the month of Ramadan.

In the Hadith, which is ascribed to the Prophet Mohammed, Aisha told us:

"In the days ofthe Jāhiliyyah the people of Quraysh were thirsty on the day of Ashura. And theProphet would also fast on that day. When the Prophet arrived at al Medina, he fasted on that same day and commanded that it be a day of fasting.  When we were commanded [to fast] regarding Ramadan, then the Ramadan became [a] compulsory [fast], and the Prophet abolished the day of Ashura, and whoever wishes – fast on that day, and those that do not– leave." [1]

The above mentioned refers to the Quran which mentions the commandment to fast:

 "O believers! Fasting has been made obligatory for you just asit was made obligatory for those before you … Ramadhan is the (month) in which was sent down the Qur'an… So every one of you who is present (at his home)during that month should spend it in fasting..."[2] 

Therefore, the month of Ramadan was decreed to be a month of fasting and according to the Quran and later sources a number of obligatory laws were also decreed for this month.  All Moslems are obligated to fast from sunrise to sunset.  The dawn meal, eaten every day before the start of fasting is called "Sachor" and the meal that breaks the fast, every evening after sunset, is called "Ptor".    

During the day, there is no requirement not to work, but it is forbidden to eat or to drink, it is forbidden to smoke and to have sexual relations. Profanity is also forbidden and it is customary not to get married during this month. The climax of the month is reached on the 27th night, known in Arabic as Laylat al-Qadr – the night of power.  According to tradition, on this night the heavens opened and the Quran began to fall to earth.  At this time, the fate of the believers is decided – guilty or innocent. The source of this tradition is the Quran, Sura97 otherwise known as The Layla. Following this date, the fast continues foranother three days and immediately afterwards the three day, Eid el-Fitr festival begins.  

The last 10 days of Ramadan are of particularly significant.  During this time many prayers are said and for longer periods that is usual for regular prayers. Additionally, much time is spent in the Mosque and charity is given. 

Some exemptions are allowed as it isclear that it not possible for everybody to fast. Those who are ill, those on a long journey[3], pregnant women etc., all of these people are not obligated to fast.  Those who can (a person who hasbeen cured or returned from a long journey) must make up for the lost days offasting before the next Ramadan.  This is also valid for women in their menstrual period. During the menstrual period, women must stop fasting and make up for themissed bays before the next Ramadan.

In many places, it is accepted to divide the Quran into 30 sections and, every evening to read from the Quran andthus finish the reading of the entire Quran during the month of Ramadan (the month, as said earlier, that the Quran began to descend to earth from heaven). 

In contrast, over the past few years, many Muslim countries have begun to broadcast 30 episode soap operas,one episode for each night of the month of Ramadan.   

During Ramadan is customary to say the blessing of Ramadan Karim. This signifies the wish that Allah will be generous with you when deciding your fate. At the end of the month and also during the festival, it is also customary to wish each other "happy new year", the same blessing used during the other festival on the Muslim calendar. 

During the nights of Ramadan Moslems have many meals together. 

In many places, the fast is broken with dates and, amongst the other accepted foods prevalent during the Ramadan are many sweet things such as Kanafeh and Qatayef.  Despite this being a month of fasting,expenses are higher than usual because of the communal meals and the festival that marks the end of the Ramadan. 

I'll finish with a saying attributedto the Prophet: "The Prophet said: When the month of Ramadan starts, the heavens open and hell closes and the hands of the satanic will be bound in chains."[4]

[1]  Copylevitch, Emmanuel(Edited & Translated), ­The World of the Prophet Mohammed, Carmel,Jerusalem, 2011, Page 141

[2]  Rubin, Uri (Translated and published), The Quran, Sura 2, verses 183 – 185, Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv, 2005 

[3] Against thebackground of the of the law which allows a person on a journey not too fast, alegal exemption was given to sportsmen during the London 2012 Olympics not to fast during the games and to make up the days later.  See the Quran, Sura 2, 185 in relation tothis.

[4]See footnote 1, page 129.