Ramzan or Ramadan, the holy month of fasting in Islam, began from Tuesday in India, Pakistan and Iran. Ramzan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar when Muslims abstain from food and water from sunrise to sunset. Eid-ul-Fitr marks the end of Ramzan. Muslims in Southeast Asian countries like Indonesia and Malaysia, and much of the Middle East, including Egypt, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, began fasting on Monday for the start of the month of Ramzan.
Muslims follow a lunar calendar, and a moon-sighting methodology can lead to different countries declaring the start of Ramzan a day or two apart.
Traditionally, countries announce if their moon-sighting council spots the Ramzan crescent the evening before fasting begins.
Across the world, Muslims fast each day for the entire month of Ramzan, abstaining from food and drink from dawn to dusk. That means around 15 hours without food, water, cigarettes or caffeine.
Fasting is aimed at drawing worshippers closer to God through self-control, remembrance and humility.
The challenge of fasting for many is also a chance to reset spiritually and physically, kick bad habits and purify the heart.
During the day, Muslims must also abstain from sex, gossip and cursing, and are encouraged to focus on meditative acts like prayer, reading the Quran and charity.
It's common practice across many Muslim-majority nations for liquor stores and hotels to curb the sale of alcohol during Ramzan. Often, restaurants shutter their doors during the day.
Those exempt from fasting include children, the elderly, the sick, women who are pregnant, nursing or menstruating, and people travelling.
The Ramzan fast begins with a pre-dawn meal called "suhoor" to prepare hungry stomachs for the long day ahead. A typical suhoor often includes bread, vegetables, fruits, yogurt, tea, as well as lentils and beans. At sunset, when it's time to mark the end of the daylong fast, families and friends gather for an evening meal known as "iftar."
Ramzan or Ramadan? The difference
According to Scroll.in, historically, most Muslims on the subcontinent have called this month by its Persian name, “Ramzan”, especially if they speak Urdu and Hindi. Languages such as Bengali, which don’t have a "z", use a variant of that word: “Romjan”. In the past decade or so, however, a great many subcontinental Muslims have rejected these traditional names and taken to using what they believe is the Arabic word for it: Ramadan.
“People have suddenly begun to call it ‘Ramadan’, since that is the pronunciation of the word in the Quran,” said Delhi-based writer Rana Safvi. “But as a child, growing up in Lucknow, it was always called ‘Ramzan’. This is a completely new thing.”
The word Ramadan comes from the Arabic root ramiḍa or ar-ramaḍ, which means scorching heat or dryness. Fasting is fard (obligatory) for adult Muslims, except those who are suffering from an illness, travelling, are elderly, pregnant, breastfeeding, diabetic, chronically ill or menstruating.
The name of this month in Arabic can be transliterated into Roman characters as "Ramadan" – the "d" there being a rather arcane and ancient Arabic sound that really has no equivalent in any Indian language or English and is terribly difficult to enunciate. For non-Arabs, the "d" is usually approximated to the soft "d" of "dal-chawal" or (by English speakers) with a hard "d" (as in "dad").
Muslims typically break their fast as the Prophet Muhammad did some 1,400 years ago, by eating sweet dates and drinking water, followed by a sunset prayer. Then, the iftar meals are enjoyed.
These are often lavish affairs of home-cooked platters of rice, stews and meat, as well as spreads of desserts and other sweets.
While Muslims around the world welcomed the start of Raman with traditional greetings and messages of peace, the start of the Muslim holy month in the Gaza Strip was marked by sounds of outgoing Palestinian rockets and incoming Israeli airstrikes.
Families often shop for food items in the days before Ramzan, but most shops and markets in Gaza were closed due to the heavy round of cross-border fighting.
"We got used to this situation, we don't care anymore," said Rushdi Anbar, a 42-year-old architect, as he hurried through one of the few markets still open.
In 2014, the latest of three deadly wars between Israel and Gaza's Hamas rulers began in the second week of Ramzan and lasted for 50 days. Anwar Zeydieh, a mother of three, said she fears a similar scenario this Ramzan. "I don't think we are ready to endure all this suffering again.
(With PTI inputs)