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Ramadan 2018: when is it and how is it observed ?

Ramadan begins next month and Muslims around the world will be taking part in ritual fasting and abstinence for 30 days.

Here is all you need to know about Ramadan 2018, and how it is commemorated around the world.

When is Ramadan?

When Ramadan begins changes each year. It is determined by the first confirmed sighting of the new moon – but there is often controversy about when it starts, with different countries observing it on different days. In the UK, Ramadan this year begins on 15 May and finishes on 14 June.

How is Ramadan observed?

Fasting is the most well-known and important part of the month. Practicing Muslims are not allowed to eat between sunrise and sunset to help teach “self-discipline, self-restraint and generosity”, the BBC says. It's common to have one meal, the suhoor, just before sunrise and another known as the iftar directly after sunset.

Non-Muslims, young children, the sick, people with mental health illnesses, travellers, the elderly and women who are menstruating, pregnant, breast-feeding or have recently given birth do not have to fast, says Al Jazeera.

The government’s Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service has a page for helping employers support Muslim employees during Ramadan, and warns that “fasting may affect people in different ways (for example some people may understandably become a little irritable or slightly tired at times) and some understanding from managers and colleagues can be helpful”.

While it is illegal for employers to have policies that particularly disadvantage religious workers, sensitivity to employees’ religious needs also makes good business sense, says Acas. This includes making provisions for flexible working and time off during religious festivals.

Are there any tips for fasting?

On its website, the NHS gives a variety of tips for staying healthy during Ramadan. It suggests eating at least two meals a day – the suhoor and iftar – and packing them with complex carbohydrates such as wheat, oats, lentils and basmati rice that release energy slowly.

High-fat and high-sugar foods are not recommended and fasters should instead eat baked samosas, boiled dumplings, grilled meat and milk-based puddings.

Dr Razeen Mahroof, a consultant from Oxford, says: “Ramadan isn't always thought of as being an opportunity to lose weight because the spiritual aspect is emphasised more generally than the health aspect. However, it's a great chance to get the physical benefits as well.”

Despite this, he adds, a balanced diet with the right proportion of carbs, fat and protein is needed to see any benefits.

When is sunrise and sunset?

Knowing the exact times of sunrise and sunset is important during Ramadan, but this can be complicated as this differs around the world and sometimes even in a country. Apps such as Muslim Pro tell when to begin fasting and what time followers can eat again.

Time and Date also gives the exact sunrise and sunset times for any location around the world.

Why is the month so significant? 

Ramadan marks the month when Allah revealed the Koran to the Prophet Muhammad.

Fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam – a verse in the Koran prescribes it for all mature and healthy Muslims, Al Jazeera writes. Muslims fast as an act of worship, a chance to get closer to Allah and a way to become more compassionate to those in need.

What is the Night of Power?

On the 27th day of Ramadan, Muslims mark Lailat al Qadr – the “Night of Power”. This is Islam’s holiest night and commemorates the day the Koran was revealed to the ProphetMuhammad. It involves spending the night praying, studying and reciting the holy text.

However, the exact day of Lailat al Qadr falls was never actually specified by the Prophet Muhammad and some Muslims choose to commemorate all the last ten days of Ramadan as if they were Lailat al Qadr.

What happens when Ramadan ends?

To mark the end of fasting, Muslims celebrate the Eid ul-Fitr festival, beginning with early morning prayers and then a day of feasting with friends and family.

Many Muslims don their best clothes to celebrate eating their first daylight meal in a month and give thanks to Allah for giving them strength and self-control. They also exchange gifts and decorate their homes for the celebrations.

Why do the dates of Ramadan change each year?

Ramadan is based on a lunar calendar, which is determined by the position of the moon in the sky. This means each year the fasting begins around 11 days earlier than the previous year.

Next year, it begins on 5 May, then it moves to April in 2020. By 2023, it will have hit March and by 2026, Ramadan will be in February.

The change means keeping Ramadan is slightly easier when the days are short, but summer months, when the days are long, make the fast more difficult – especially for those living in countries in the far north, where the sun can remain in the sky almost all day.

To counter this, some scholars suggest only using Mecca time to measure the fast, but the idea is controversial, leaving many believers fasting for up to 19 hours at a time.

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