O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that ye may learn self restraint...
(Chapter 2: Verse 183 The Qur'an)
"Ramadan" is the Muslim month of fasting. During the month of Ramadan Muslims abstain from eating, drinking, and intercourse during daylight hours. They also abstain from backbiting, slander, arguing, etc. as part of their fast. Thus fasting in Islam is abstention from all bodily desires as well as refraining from harming others in speech or in action, as a means of purification of the body and soul. Purification is a major theme in Islam. Ritual ablution is required for many acts of worship such as reading The Qur'an and praying the five daily prayers. But the purification of this month goes far beyond this outer level and looks inward to the spiritual. Internally the Muslim tries to clear him/herself from everything that distracts him/her from God and the remembrance of God. Externally he/she tries to refrain from harming others in word or action, and purifies his/her body by allowing it to rest from the endless cycle of eating and drinking. Also during this month, Muslims strengthen and renew family and social bonds by visiting each other and particularly breaking the fast together at sunset.
Another method of purification in this month is the night prayer. Muslims have five daily obligatory prayers but in Ramadan prayer takes on a new dimension when many Muslims will perform an optional night prayer called "Taraweh". Taraweh is a congregational prayer in which Muslims gather together at the local Masjid and pray for several hours each night. During these prayers 1/30 of The Qur'an will be recited in the prayer so that at the end of the month the entire Qur'an will have been recited. This is also in remembrance of the great Mercy of God in having sent down The Qur'an as a guidance for Humankind.
Fasting in the month of Ramadan is obligatory on every Muslim male or female after the age of puberty as long as illness, travel, breast feeding, pregnancy or menstruation do not hinder the person from observing the fast. For these (those who cannot fast or upon whom fasting would be a hardship) the days missed must be made up during the rest of the year or he/she must feed the poor as expiation for each day missed.
Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam the others being Shahada (witnessing by intention and word that there is no God but Allah and that Muhammed is the messenger of Allah), Salat (the 5 obligatory daily prayers that Muslims observe), Zakat(The payment of a percentage of one's income to the poor), and Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca). These "pillars" are the foundation upon which the rest of the religion is built.
Since Muslims follow a lunar calendar, the month of Ramadan begins with the sighting of the new moon and ends with the sighting of the new moon of the next month. Thus the month will be either 29 or 30 days depending on when the moon is sighted.
The celebration at end of Ramadan, "Eid Al-Fitr", is one of the two holidays that Muslims observe- the other being "Eid Al-Adha" at the end of the Hajj. The Eid Al-Fitr celebration signifies the end of the month of Ramadan and is marked by a congregational prayer offered by all Muslims on the day after the last day of the fast. After the prayer Muslims gather together with family and friends.