The holy month of Ramadan has only recently begun. It comes around every year according to the lunar Islamic Calendar. For the next 30 days millions of Muslims around the world will fast from dusk till dawn. However, there is a lot more to the month of Ramadan. Here are a few things you might not know about it.
Fasting is obligatory on all adult Muslim males. Children are exempted from fasting, however, their parents usually start to teach them to refrain from eating and drinking for certain periods of time during the month. People who are mentally handicapped or insane are fully exempted from the obligation of fasting.
Women who are pregnant or are nursing are also exempted from the obligation to fast. Women going through their monthly cycles are also exempted from fasting. In both cases they are required to compensate for the fasts forgone at a later time.
If you happen to be travelling during the month of Ramadan you are not required to fast. Of course, travelling from your home to your office does not constitute travelling. If you are travelling a significant distance and specially when the journey is difficult you are exempted from fasting. It is up to the individual's conscience to determine when to apply this exemption.
Ramadan comes in a close second to Christmas in this respect. Malls in Istanbul are thronged, and it's one of the busiest times of year for luxury-car dealers in Riyadh. Fast-food chains offer nighttime Ramadan "meal deals," and Egyptians purchase nearly twice as much food as normal. Almost all restaurants in Pakistan offer special deals at the time of breaking the fast called Iftar deals. Restaurants are jam-packed and it is impossible to find place in a Pizza Hut branch in Pakistan's urban cities. TV channels broadcast special Ramadan programs at Iftar and Sehr times. Twenty-five to 30% of Arab TV ad revenue comes during Ramadan.
Ramadan has often been used by not-so-religious dictators and tyrants in the past to further their religious legitimacy. Turkmenbashi, the late neo-Stalinist ruler of Turkmenistan, pardoned 8,145 prisoners during Ramadan in 2005; autocrats from Damascus to Algiers have followed the same playbook. Saddam Hussein twice offered a cease-fire to Iran during the the Iran-Iraq war. And in an amusing and ironic incident, when Condoleezza Rice visited Libya in Ramadan to meet Qaddafi, he refused to shake her hand invoking Islamic rules of not touching women while fasting-all while his Amazonian female bodyguards stood beside him and watched.
Although this is not an absolute distinction as regional variations may apply but Sunni And Shi'ite Muslims break their fasts a few minutes apart. Sunni Muslims break their fast at the time of Maghrib prayer when the sun is no longer visible on the horizon but the sky is still quite light. Shi'ites wait longer. They believe their fast cannot be broken until the last rays of light have vanished from the sky.
Many Muslims pay Zakat (obligatory charity to the poor) in the month of Ramadan. Mosques, religious organizations and even wealthy households offer free iftar meals to the poor every evening. It is also customary among the well-to-do Muslims to give poor families Ramadan bags or baskets containing basic cooking items like sugar, oil, rice and tea before the first day of the month.