Original article from Kent Live
From April 13 to May 12 this year, Muslims around the world will observe the holy month of Ramadan.
The ninth month of the Muslim calendar, Ramadan is one of the most significant religious celebrations of the year.
2011 census data released by the Office for National Statistics shows that 0.95 per cent of the Kent population identified themselves as Muslim.
However, it is still the second largest religious group in the region, and is observed by hundreds of thousands of Muslims in the UK, and millions more worldwide.
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Many of us that aren't Muslim may only have a cursory knowledge of Ramadan and might not really know much about it beyond the practice of fasting during daylight hours.
As such, we want to explain a little more about the Holy month and what it means to those that observe it.
What is Ramadan?
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, and is observed as one of the five pillars of Islam, centred around Sawm or the practice of fasting during daylight hours.
It is part of the Islamic lunar calendar of 12 months, beginning with the new crescent moon, and lasting either 29 or 30 days.
The five pillars are in essence the core tenets of the faith, with also include prayer, pilgrimage to the holy site of Mecca, declaring faith in one god and giving wealth to those in need.
Ramadan is chosen specifically as Muslims believe it is the month in which some of the first verses of the Qu'ran were revealed to the Prophet Muhammad.
As such, extra emphasis is placed on reciting the holy text, and the practice of fasting works alongside the reading of the Qu'ran as a means to feel closer to God, strengthening their spiritual connection to faith.
How is it observed?
Ramadan is predominantly structured around the practice of fasting, with Muslims only allowed to eat when the sun is down.
As such, two meals are taken during Ramadan – Suhoor or Sehri in the morning, and Iftar or Fitoor in the evening, breaking the fast after sunset.
These meals are traditionally shared with family and friends, though coronavirus restrictions will severely limit the extent to which this is possible.
There are additional prayer times at night, called Tarawih, only practiced during Ramadan.
The word roughly translates as "to rest and relax", and is a form of meditative prayer, though observance is optional and is predominantly practiced by the Sunni branch of the faith, which comprises 85-90% of the Muslim population.
How will COVID impact Ramadan?
COVID has disrupted almost every kind of community gathering or event over the last year, and Ramadan is no different.
Much like Eid, another Islamic holy event, that was subject to restrictions last summer, and Christmas, which was planned to go ahead prior to a policy reversal by the Government, there have been no special coronavirus provisions for Ramadan.
However, some household mixing rule relaxations have coincided with the holy month, meaning that groups of six or up to two households may gather outdoors.
Many communities have also organised online prayer and celebratory events for those unable to attend in person, whilst Mosques have been able to reopen.
As such, Muslims are now able to go to their local Mosque to pray, on the condition that they wear face coverings, bring their own prayer mat, and abide by the social distancing rules still in place.
Prayer times have also been reduced by many mosques in order to minimise the time the public spend in an enclosed space with a large group.
The end of the month of Ramadan is marked by Eid-al-Fitr, a celebration of the breaking of the daytime fast, to take place on 12 or 13 May this year.
It will likely still be subject to substantial lockdown restrictions, meaning the usual large gatherings of family and friends for a meal and exchanging of gifts are likely to be limited.