Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, takes place during the ninth month of the Muslim calendar. A time for worship and contemplation, Ramadan marks the day the Koran was sent down from Heaven via the angel Gabriel to Prophet Muhammad.
To allow for complete devotion to their faith, Muslims must abide by stringent rules from dawn until sunset for the entire month. Eating, drinking, smoking, and sex are strictly forbidden during daylight. In addition, Muslims must show greater sympathy for the needy and poor. Fasting plays a key role in accomplishing these goals by allowing for greater concentration on the spiritual, generating empathy for the hungry and cleansing the body of overindulgence.
At the end of each day, Muslims break their fast with a meal called the iftar. Following the custom of Prophet Muhammad, the fast is often broken with dates, then followed by a prayer and dinner. Muslims also generally have a pre-fast meal, called the suhoor, which occurs before dawn.
The evening of the 23rd day of the month, or Laylat-al-Qadr ("the Night of Decree"), is a very special day in which all sins are forgiven and any act returned multi-fold. This night is believed to be the one on which Muhammad first received the revelation of the Holy Koran.
The day after Ramadan ends, Muslims celebrate a holiday called Id-al-Fitr, a three-day "Feast of Fast Breaking." During this time, gifts are exchanged, large meals consumed, and the company of family and friends enjoyed.