What Is Ramadan? Everything About Muslims' Holiest Month As Told By Experts

Ramadan is the most sacred month of the year for Muslims, with the Prophet Muhammad quoted as saying: "When the month of Ramadan starts, the gates of heaven are opened and the gates of hell are closed and the devils are chained."

Muslims believe God revealed the first verses of the sacred text the Quran to Muhammad during this time now celebrated as Ramadan, on "The Night of Power" (Laylat al-Qadr in Arabic).

To outsiders, the period is perhaps best known for the act of fasting, meaning believers will not eat or drink from dawn to sunset for the entire month of Ramadan.

However, there are so many more dimensions to this most spiritual time, which encourages Muslims to contemplate their relationship with God.

Newsweek spoke with a religious scholar and a pair of practicing Muslims to find out more about Ramadan, which begins this year on Saturday, April 2.

What Is Ramadan?

Muslim prayer during Ramadan
Muslim prayer during Ramadan. The exact dates of Ramadan change every year as Islam uses a calendar based on the cycles of the Moon. Rawpixel/Getty Images

Justin Stearns, a non-Muslim professor of Arab crossroads studies at NYU Abu Dhabi, suggests one of the most important things to understand about Ramadan is its "ritual nature."

He told Newsweek: "Religious rituals create community along a dual-axis of time and space.

"Time, by linking current practitioners with those who have gone before them and those who will come after.

"Muslims have fasted during Ramadan since the time of the Prophet 1400 years ago and they will continue during so as long as Muslim communities exist.

"Space, by linking all Muslims in the world with each other during this month."

He added that fasting, as one of the five pillars in Islam, helps foster a positive sense of a global neighborhood.

Stearns said: "Like prayer, pilgrimage, alms-giving, through its ritual nature fasting during Ramadan is therefore greater than the efforts of any individual believer—it allows each participant to experience being part of a greater community.

"In this, celebrating Ramadan is similar to what followers of other religions and spiritual traditions experience through their own rituals.

"Culturally, what Ramadan looks like and how it is celebrated, varies greatly according to time and place of course.

"But in its creation of community, it should be valued, appreciated, and respected regardless of one's background."

Ramadan: A Personal Perspective

Crescent and Hagia Sophia during Ramadan
Crescent and Hagia Sophia pictured during Ramadan. Ramadan 2022 will begin in the evening of Saturday, April 2 and will end on Sunday, May 1 muratekmen/Getty Images

This month of prayer, community and reflection may sound like a testing time to outsiders, but the truth is very different, according to two practicing Muslims.

Umar Ditta, an account manager at digital specialist Embryo, told Newsweek: "Not eating or drinking for 14-plus hours a day for a full month can seem a bit daunting but Ramadan has always been a special time of the year for me.

"It helps me focus and understand not to take things for granted.

"I am a self-professed food lover and people think it's really hard for someone like me to abstain from eating for so long, but it's not.

"I keep myself busy throughout the day and pace myself. It's as simple as that, really.

"But in those rare moments when I think I need a bit of help, I'm just glad that I have an understanding and supportive working environment at Embryo that are willing to be accommodating to me in the month of Ramadan."

His colleague, content executive Nafisah Atcha, agreed, adding: "Working during the month of Ramadan is not as hard as you might imagine."

Muslim prayer during Ramadan
Muslim prayer during Ramadan. Ramadan is a time for prayer and performing good deeds Rawpixel/Getty Images

She told Newsweek: "It is a blessed month filled with special moments I look forward to every year. With the right mindset and support, the month can be just as productive as any other month.

"The one thing I have learned is the importance of knowing your limits and making sure you don't go overboard.

"While your daily routine does change, working under a hybrid model and having some form of schedule helps.

"I like being busy and working gives me some semblance of a routine."

iStock Ramadan Messages Politicians
Fasting during Ramadan allows Muslims to devote themselves to their faith iStock