What does “Ramadan” mean exactly, and why is today so important to Muslims?

After a long period of fasting, today marks Eid al-Fitr, the final day of the  month of Ramadan. Muslims around the world will mark the occasion with a day of feasting.

During Ramadan, Muslims honor the time when they believe God revealed the first verses of the Koran. It is the month in which all Muslims atone and seek nearness to Allah (the Muslim name for God)  by fasting and abstaining from sex and smoking. During this time, it is also encouraged to avoid evil thoughts and cursing. Soldiers, the sick, and the young are exempt from the fasting ritual.

Sawm is the Arabic word for fasting. The word is derived from the Syriac sawmo. In Afghanistan, India, Iran, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Uzbekistan the word rozeh, from Dari, is used instead of sawm. Turks call it oruç. In Malaysia and Singapore it is called puasa, which is derived from Sanskrit.

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Muslim year. Because of the Islamic lunar calendar, Ramadan falls in different seasons over a cycle of about 33 years. Because of the origin of its name, it is believed that Ramadan was originally a summer month. Ramadan once meant “the hot month.” It comes from the Arabic ramida, which meant “to be burnt, scorched.”