The month of Ramadan and fasting in Islam
In observing the month of Ramadan, Muslims follow the Lunar calendar, which was the way God taught man how to count time -months and years- from the beginning. That's why many civilizations -ancient and modern- associate counting time with the moon. The word "Month"; in chronology, is the conventional period of lunation, i.e. the passage of the moon through all of its phases. In many other references of religion and history, we find that all the Messengers of God had taught their followers nothing -about time and calendars- except observing the "Lunar calendar".
Ramadan is the ninth month in the lunar calendar. Because the Lunar calendar is a few days shorter than the Gregorian calendar, the month of Ramadan moves throughout the year, from winter to fall to summer and to spring very slowly. This way, one gets to experience the month of Ramadan in all the seasons of the year - winter, fall, summer and spring- about once in his/her lifetime.
Ramadan is a holy month because according to the Islamic tradition, Allah (God in English) has started His revelation to His major Messengers in that month. The revelation to Moses, David, Jesus Christ and Muhammad (Peace be upon them) all started to be reveled to them in the lunar month of Ramadan.
Ramadan is the month of excitement and enlightenment for Muslims, most of them read or reciting the entire Qur'an in a -voluntary- special night prayer called Tarawih (Taraweeh).
Ramadan is also the month of giving and sharing with others. Many choose to give their Zakat -poor due- in that month; others give extra donation hoping for extra reward because of the holy month. Many share their Iftar meal (breaking the fast) with family members, friends or neighbors. Many also prepare meals and donate them to their local mosques where others, including non-Muslims, could enjoy the Iftar meal.
Fasting is a command from God to all His Messengers, thatís why there are other records of religions and history beside Islam that indicate other Messengers and Prophets of God have fasted too and it is the fourth pillar of Islam.
When fasting, one gives a time for the body to rest from the regular working and eating schedule, which in turn allows the body to take itís time in cleaning up itself form any excessive minerals or substances that are unneeded.
Although fasting is most beneficial to the health physically, it is regarded principally as a method of self-purification, it is also an excellent chance to learn self-control. This results from the lack of preoccupation with satisfying the bodily appetites during daylight hours. By cutting oneself off from worldly comforts, even for a short time, a fasting person gains true sympathy with those who go -involuntarily- hungry, as well as growth in one's spiritual life. Muslims fast from first light until sundown, abstaining from food, drink, and sexual relations. This is the way the Messenger, Muhammad peace be upon him has taught his followers how to fast.
Those who are sick, elderly, or on a journey, and women who are pregnant or nursing are permitted to break the fast and make up an equal number of days later in the year. If they are physically unable to do this, they must feed a needy person for every day missed. Although many start earlier as a practice, children begin to fast (and to observe the prayer) from puberty.
In the Quran, the command with fasting is found in chapter 2:183
"O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that ye may (learn) self-restraint. 184 - (Fasting) for a fixed number of days; but if any of you is ill, or on a journey, the prescribed number (Should be made up) from days later. For those who can do it (With hardship), is a ransom, the feeding of one that is indigent. But he that will give more, of his own free will,- it is better for him. And it is better for you that ye fast, if ye only knew. 185 - Ramadhan is the (month) in which was sent down the Qur'an, as a guide to mankind, also clear (Signs) for guidance and judgment (Between right and wrong). So every one of you who is present (at his home) during that month should spend it in fasting, but if any one is ill, or on a journey, the prescribed period (Should be made up) by days later. God intends every facility for you; He does not want to put to difficulties. (He wants you) to complete the prescribed period, and to glorify Him in that He has guided you; and perchance ye shall be grateful".
According to the verses above, God will not hold us responsible for anything which we don't have a choice about, as in the case if one being ill and has to take medications.
Fasting, as well as all other forms of worshipping in Islam, is the responsibility of each person. Everyone will have to answer only for what he/she does here on Earth not about what somebody else has done whether it was good or a sin. We read in the Quran:
"On no soul does Allah place a burden greater than it can bear. It gets every good that it earns. And it suffers every ill that it earns" (2:286).
As for the celebration, it is after the month has ended, which is called Eid-al-Fitr (Eid-ul-Fitr) or the festival of fast-Breaking, where Muslims celebrate the end of their fasting marking it with special gift of charity (Zakat-ul-Fitr). The celebration starts with a prayer in the morning. Everybody tries to attend that prayer then the celebration with family and friends come next. If the family happen to live close by, one may start by visiting his family members' first then neighbors. If family members were on a driving distance, many drive to celebrate Eid-al-Fitr with their relatives. Everybody dresses in a new or a nice dress for they are happy to have complied with one of God's commands. Parents and relatives usually given children gifts or money to buy what they please with it.