The ninth month of the Muslim year, which is observed as a strict fast from dawn to sunset of each day in the month. The word Ramazan is dervied from ramz, “to burn.” The month is said to have been so called either because it was used (before the change of the calendar) to occur in the hot season, or because the month’s fast is supposed to burn away the sins of men. (Ghiyusu ‘l-Lughah, in loco.)
The observance of this month is one of the five pillars of practice in the Muslim religion, and its excellence is much extolled by Muhammad, who said that during Ramazan “the gates of Paradise are open, and the gates of hell are shut and the devils are chained by the leg, and only those who observe it will be permitted to enter at the gate of heaven called Raiyan” Those who keep the fast will be pardoned all their past venial sins.” (Mishkat, book vii. ch i. Pt. I.)
From the preceding verses it, will be seen that fast does not commence until some Muslim is able to state that be has seen the new moon. If the sky he over-clouded and the moon cannot be seen, the fast. begins upon the completion of thirty days from beginning of the previous month.
It must be kept by every Muslim, except the sick, the infirm, and pregnant women, or women who are nursing their children. Young children, who have not reached the age of puberty, are exempt, and also travellers on a journey of more than three days. In the case of a sick person or traveler, the month’s fast must be kept as soon us they are able to perform it. This act is called Qaza’, or expiation.
During the mouth of Ramazan twenty additional rakahs, or forms of prayer, are repeated after the night prayer These are called Tarawih.
Devout Muslims seclude themselves for some time in the Mosque during this month, and abstain from all worldly conversation, engaging themselves in the reading of the Qur’an. This seclusion is called I’tikaf. Muhammad is said to have usually observed this custom in the last ten days of Ramamzan. The Laitatu ‘l-Qadr, or the “nighht of power,” is said by Muhammad to be either on the twenty-first, twenty third, or twenty-fifth, or twenty-seventh, or twenty-ninth of the month of Ramazan. The exact date of this solemn night has not been discovered by any but the Prophet himself, and some of the Companions, although the learned doctors believe it. to lie on the twenty-seventh of this night Muhamnmad says in the Qur’an (Suratu ‘l-Qadr):-
“Verily we have caused it (the Qur’an) to descend on the night of power.
And who shalt teach thee what the night is?
The night of power excelleth a thousand months;
Therein descend the angels and the spirit by permission
Of their Lord in every matter;
And all is peace till the breaking of the morn.”
By these verses the commentator Husain understands that on this night the Qur’an came down entire in one volume to the lowest heaven, from whence it was revealed by Gabriel in portions, as the occasion required. The excellences of that night are said to be innumerable, and it is believed that during it the whole animal and vegetable kingdom bow in humble adoration to the Almighty, and the waters of the sea become sweet in a moment of time. This night is frequently confounded with the Shab-I-Barat, but even the Qur’an itself is not quite clear on the subject., for in Surah xliv., it reads, “By this clear book See on a blessed night have we merit it down, for we would warn mankind, on the night wherein all things are disposed in wisdom.” From which it appears that “the blessed night,” or the Lailatu ‘l-mubarakah, is both the night of record and the night upon which the Qur’an came down from heaven, although the one is the twenty-seventh day of Ramazan and the other the fifteenth of Sha’ban.
The difference between our fast and that of the people of the book (i.e. Jews and Christians) is eating only before the first dawn of day (and not afterwards).”
Based on Hughes, Dictionary of Islam