Ramadan the ninth month of the Hijri calendar. The month was holy even in pre-Islamic times and was one of the months of truce and peace. Fasting during the month is one of the Five Pillars of Islam. The month of fasting begins with the sighting of the new moon.

During Ramadan, it is forbidden for Muslims to eat and drink from dawn to dusk. They are also expected to refrain from impure thoughts or acts. The magrib azan at sunset signals the end of the fast. The fast is traditionally opened with dates and something cold to drink, a glass of water or sherbet. The meal that ends the fast is known as iftar. Usually special foods are prepared and served for iftar. After opening their fast, men gather in mosques to say the tarawih prayers in which the Holy quran is recited in sections to be completed during the month. Women say these prayers at home. After the tarawih prayers, the larger meal of the evening is taken. Most Muslims will also eat something in the early hours of the morning, the sehri. The time for sehri ends before fajr or dawn prayer. Traditionally, groups patrolled the neighbourhood announcing that it was time to get up and eat. In return for this small work they received a monetary gift from their neighbours at the end of Ramadan. Though now these groups are no longer needed, the tradition persists in some neighbourhoods.

All able-bodied Muslims are obliged to fast. Small children, people who are ill or travelling, as well as menstruating and nursing women are exempt from fasting. Women, however, are required to make up the days subsequently in the year.

In Bangladesh, roadside shops mushroom, preparing and selling iftar delicacies. Almost all restaurants prepare special foods for iftar. Clothes shops, sari shops, as well as jewellers do brisk business during the month as people buy new clothes and accessories for themselves and their families. Many people give zakat in the form of clothes to the less well off.

The sighting of the new moon of the month of Shawwal signals the end of Ramadan. The Muslim festival of eid-ul fitr is celebrated the next day. [Niaz Zaman]