RamadanRamadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. Islam uses a lunar calendaróthat is, each month begins with the sighting of the new moon. Because the lunar calendar is about 11 days shorter than the solar calendar used elsewhere, Islamic holidays "move" each year. This year Ramadan begins on November 6; in 2003 it will begin on Oct. 27.
For more than a billion Muslims around the worldóincluding some 8 million in North AmericaóRamadan is a "month of blessing" marked by prayer, fasting, and charity. This year Ramadan precedes Christmas and overlaps Hanukkah. But while in many places these holidays have become widely commercialized, Ramadan retains its focus on self-sacrifice and devotion to Allah (God).
Muslims believe that during the month of Ramadan, Allah revealed the first verses of the Qur'an, the holy book of Islam. Around 610 A.D., a caravan trader named Muhammad took to wandering the desert near Mecca (in today's Saudi Arabia) while thinking about his faith. One night a voice called to him from the night sky. It was the angel Gabriel, who told Muhammad he had been chosen to receive the word of Allah. In the days that followed, Muhammad found himself speaking the verses that would be transcribed as the Qur'an.
At many mosques during Ramadan, about one thirtieth of the Qur'an is recited each night in prayers known as tarawih. In this way, by the end of the month the complete scripture will have been recited.