RAMADAN, the month of the Mahommedan year in which absolute fasting from dawn to sunset is required. The law is laid down in Koran ii. 179-184, and is as follows: A fast ' had always been a part of religion. In Islam it was to fall in this month because in it the Koran was revealed, and it was holier than the others. It was to begin when the new moon was actually seen, and last until sight of the next new moon; to extend each day from the time when a white thread could be distinguished from a black one and until nightfall; to be absolute in that time as to food, drink, women. The daytime should be passed, by preference, in retreat (i `tikaf) in the mosque in pious exercises; during the night all otherwise lawful things to be lawful. The sick and those on a journey might be excused, but should fast thereafter an equivalent number of days. Unexcused breaking of the fast might be atoned for by feeding of the poor. The last ten days of the month are regarded as especially sacred; these Mahomet himself used to pass in retreat. In the course of them falls the "Night of Decree," or "of Power" (Koran xc. I), but its exact date is not known. On it intercourse between heaven and earth is peculiarly open, and many wonders take place. Fasting in Ramadan is reckoned one of the five pillars, or absolute requirements, of Islam. It is followed by the Lesser Festival, the first three days of the month Shauwal (see Bairam). Naturally, during it all the activities of life are reduced to a minimum, and those who can afford it turn night into day as much as possible.
For details see Hughes, Dictionary of Islam, 533 ff.; Sell, Faith of Islam, 279 ff.; Sprenger, Leben Mohammads, iii. 56 ff.; Snouck Hurgronje, Mekka, 51, 77 ff.; Meakin, The Moors, 247 ff.; Juynboll, De Mohammedaansche Wet, 108 ff. (D. B. MA.)
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