For nearly two billion Muslims throughout the world, Ramadan—which takes place during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar—represents a period of self-restraint and self-sacrifice, introspection and prayer. Muslims believe that the revelation of the Qu’ran, their sacred scripture, began in the month of Ramadan.

The origins of the Ramadan holy month 

According to Islamic tradition, in 610 AD the Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) spent the month of Ramadan contemplating his faith in a cave named Hira, located near his birthplace in the city of Mecca.

As the prophet meditated, Allah (God) began speaking through the Angel Gabriel, revealing verses that would become the Qu’ran.

That night became known as Lailat al Qadr—the Night of Power—and is considered by Muslims to be the most important event in history. Different denominations pinpoint the night on different dates: Sunnis (85–90% of Muslims) on the 27th of Ramadan and Shia (10–15% of Muslims) on the 23rd.

When does Ramadan start?

Islam follows a lunar calendar, which is based on the phases of the moon. Each month lasts 29 or 30 days and begins with the sighting of the waxing crescent moon. That means the beginning of Ramadan’s dates on the Gregorian calendar (the one we follow in the UK) change every year.

Ramadan is expected to begin somewhere around Monday 11th March 2024, based on the appearance of the crescent moon:

Because the lunar calendar is about 11 days shorter than the Gregorian calendar, Muslims who observe Ramadan over their entire lives get to experience the event during different seasons of the year.

How Ramadan is observed 

Ramadan observations are included in the Five Pillars of Islam. Those basic acts are shahada (professing one’s faith), salat (prayer), zakat (giving to charity), sawm (fasting) and hajj (making a pilgrimage to Mecca).

Muslims observe the holiday by fasting from food and drink between dawn and dusk, as well as avoiding immoral behaviour and thoughts. As fasting focuses the mind, celebrants are encouraged to think of others. Many of the faithful read or listen to recitations of the Qu’ran during Ramadan.

The observations and rituals take planning. Before dawn, people eat a meal called suhur to prepare them for fasting, followed by prayer.

After sunset and the call to evening prayer, Muslims often begin the iftar meal by eating three dates—said to be Mohammed’s (peace be upon him), way of breaking fasts.

During Ramadan, the spiritual rewards of good behaviour are believed to be multiplied—so abstaining from food and drink isn’t the only discipline Muslims adhere to. They focus their energies on prayer.

Ramadan traditions bring Muslims together—wherever they are—to focus on their most strongly held beliefs.

In the UK, where nearly 4 million Muslims live, families might enjoy iftar in their own homes or with large groups at mosques or community centres.

Ramadan ends with Eid al-Fitr, the Festival of Breaking the Fast, when the sighting of the crescent moon begins the next month of the lunar calendar. During this religious holiday, no fasting is allowed—Eid al-Fitr is a time for giving thanks to Allah, expressing joy for and gathering with friends and family.

March 11, 2024