SINGAPORE - The month of Ramadan, traditionally a time for prayer and abstinence, started on the evening of Wednesday. Muslims began their first day of fasting on Wednesday (June 17) evening.
The ninth month of the Hijri (Islamic) calendar involves a month of fasting from sunrise to sunset for nearly 1.6 billion Muslims across the world.
Here are 10 things to know about the holy month.
1. The dates for Ramadan change every year as the calendar is based on the lunar cycle, and it usually falls 11 days earlier than the previous year.
It begins at the first sighting of the new crescent moon.
2. Fasting is one of the Five Pillars of Islam. It is meant to cultivate self-discipline and direct one's heart away from distractions, as well as to cleanse one's soul by freeing it of impurities.
The meal that Muslims consume at dawn before fasting begins is called sahur. The breaking fast meal is known as iftar.
Hari Raya Aidilfitri is celebrated after the last break fast of the month. It also marks the start of a new month, Syawal.
3. Besides abstaining from eating and drinking, Muslims must also refrain from smoking, sexual activities and sinful speech or behaviour while fasting.
4. During Ramadan, praying is emphasised throughout the day (for the full list of times, click here). Special evening prayers, when long portions of the Quran are recited, called terawih, are also conducted.
5. Not all adult Muslims need to fast - the elderly and people who are sick or travelling overseas are exempted, although in the latter cases, they are expected to make up for it.
Women who are pregnant, menstruating or breastfeeding are also excused. Children are not required to fast until they reach puberty.
6. Under the Labour Law in the United Arab Emirates, employees are entitled to work reduced hours during this period without a reduction in their salaries. Workers across the country get two hours cut from their regular work days.
The law does not differentiate between Muslims and non-Muslims.
7. The most important day of Ramadan takes place some time during the last 10 days of the month. It usually falls on the 9th, 21st, 23rd, 25th, or 27th days of Ramadan. Muslims believe it was the day when the first verses of the Quran were revealed to the Prophet Muhammad.
It is known as Laylat al-Qadr, or Night of Power.
8. A recent local study conducted by experts from the National University of Singapore found that fasting during the Ramadan period can help improve blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes.
For a guide on how Muslims with diabetes can fast safely, click here.
9. Fasts are usually broken by eating dates, which is known for being easy to digest and possessing a high level of sugar. Soups, bread and fruits such as watermelon are also recommended.
Click here for a list of local eateries offering Ramadan specials.
10. The theme for this year's festivities in Singapore is "Celebrating Ramadan with family".
Social media is expected to play a significant part in it, with Muis organising a photo contest on Instagram where uploaded photos with the themes of family, care or spirituality and with the hashtag #BlessingsofRamadan stand to win $300 every week.
Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim marked the start of Ramadan with a Facebook post on Wednesday evening. "May the Holy month strengthen our ties with our families and loved ones, and bring out the best in us," he wrote.
SOURCES: The National, Out-law.com, Gulf News, TIME