by Lara Tarabey
The holy month of Ramadan is fast approaching for Muslims in the UK and around the world.
It commemorates the revelation of the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad, and is marked with a month-long fast – here's what you need to know about it.
Muslim worshippers pray at the Kaaba, Islam's holiest shrine, during Ramadan in Mecca (Photo: AFP/Getty Images)
What is Ramadan?
Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam – the fundamental rules that all Muslims follow – along with the Shahadah (declaration of faith), Salat (prayer), Zakat (charity) and the Hajj pilgrimage.
It is when Muslims are required to spend 30 days observing fast during daylight hours, as a means of celebrating and reflecting on their faith.
This year the month of Ramadan is due to start at sunset on Sunday 5 May and ends in the evening of Tuesday 4 June, depending on the sighting of the new moon.
The dates vary each year (and can be difficult to precisely predict) due to the cycle of the moon, which the lunar Islamic Calendar is based on, beginning around 11 days earlier each year.
As well as fasting, Muslims are encouraged to read the Quran during Ramadan (Photo: AFP/Getty Images)
During Ramadan there is an increased offering of the salat, with Muslims giving thanks to Allah and reflecting on their lives.
Beyond fasting, Muslims are also encouraged to read the Quran, with the holy text recited at the Tarawih, special nightly prayers held throughout the month.
Ramadan literally means "scorching heat" in Arabic, and marks the month when the Quran is said to have been revealed to Prophet Muhammad by God via the archangel Gabriel in 610 AD.
What are the rules of fasting?
The rules of the Ramadan fast are strict, with food, drink (including water), smoking, sex, and masturbation all prohibited during daylight hours for the month.
Fasting begins just before dawn, when Muslims eat a light meal called "suhoor" where their intention to fast for the day is confirmed.
A prayer known as "Adhan" is announced at sunset, signifying the end of the fast, when worshippers traditionally eat dates with juice, milk or water.
Families come together to break the fast fully with the much-anticipated meal of Iftar, which differs around the world.
In Lebanon, for example, Muslims have typical Lebanese dishes, including lentil soup, fattoush salad and the famous Baklava sweets.
Indian Muslim men arrange rows of food for the Iftar meal during Ramadan (Photo: AFP/Getty Images)
However, in such places as Kerala and Tamil Nadu, India, worshippers break their fast with a dish called nonbu kanji, prepared with meat, vegetables and porridge.
Ramadan is more broadly considered a time when pursuits such as listening to music, watching TV and shopping should be reduced to make more time for prayer and worship.
The fast is designed is to purify the body and train it both physically and spiritually, as well as the absence of luxuries encouraging gratitude for what we have.
This month is about focusing on the religion of Islam, looking back at your life and developing empathy for those less fortunate.
Palestinian Muslim worshippers pray in Jerusalem during last year's Ramadan (Photo: AFP/Getty Images)
All Muslims who have hit puberty are supposed to fast. However, there are some exemptions, including women who are menstruating or pregnant, and people suffering from illness.
Some parents may decide to let their children fast at the weekend so their bodies can gradually be trained for when take part in Ramadan fully later in life.
Despite the apparent drawbacks of not eating or drinking on long summer days, doctors have identified some health benefits with the practice, including lowering cholesterol levels.
What happens at the end of Ramadan?
Eid-al-Fitr is the celebration that follows Ramadan, meaning “festival” or “celebration” in Arabic.
This is when Muslims around the world celebrate with lights, decorations and gifts, with worshippers dressing up, decorating their homes and giving children presents.
Beyond the celebrations and the welcome breaking of the fast, Muslims also commemorate feeling closer to Allah through the self-restraint and prayers of Ramadan.
This article originally appeared on our sister site, inews