A group of people break their fast on the first day of the fasting month of Ramadan, on an old fortress overlooking the historic center of Sarajevo, Bosnia, on Wednesday, May 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Amel Emric)
Iranian cleric Mohammad Hossein Dehsorkhi looks through binoculars for the new moon that signals the start of the Islamic holy fasting month of Ramadan, at the Imam Ali observatory on Wednesday, May 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)
Pakistani Muslims perform an evening prayer called "tarawih" marking the first eve of the holy fasting month of Ramadan, in Karachi, Pakistan, Wednesday, May 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Fareed Khan)
(RNN) – Muslims around the world are observing Ramadan, Islam's holiest month of the year.
But why and how is Ramadan observed, exactly?
Here's a quick explainer on the basics:
Why do Muslims observe Ramadan?
Ramadan marks the month in which Muslims believe God revealed the first verses of the Quran, Islam's holy book, to the Prophet Muhammad.
The month-long observance is one of the five pillars or Islam. The other pillars are the Muslim declaration of faith, daily prayer, annual charity and a pilgrimage to the city of Mecca.
The holy month is meant to strengthen Muslims' faith and to foster self-improvement through discipline.
It's also meant to build compassion for others, especially the less fortunate, through the practice of fasting. Which brings us to…
How do Muslims observe Ramadan?
Muslims fast from dawn to dusk every day of the month. Worshippers start the day with a pre-dawn meal called "Suhur." After that, Muslims refrain from eating or drinking until sunset; even water is prohibited during the fast.
The practice lets worshippers better understand the conditions of those living in poverty.
Muslims break their fast with a sunset meal called "Iftar." A traditional Iftar includes sweet dates, which Muhammad is said to have eaten with his evening meal during Ramadan.
But not all Muslims are expected to fast. Able-bodied worshippers are expected to, but young children, the sick, the elderly, women who are pregnant, nursing or menstruating, and travelers aren't expected to fast.
And Ramadan fasting from dawn to dusk doesn't just include food and drink. Worshippers also refrain from consuming caffeine, smoking, having sex and engaging in disharmonious behavior like arguing and gossiping.
Muslims turn away from negative attitudes throughout the month, avoiding thoughts of jealousy and anger.
Followers also study the Quran to help them on their spiritual journey toward self-improvement.
Charity, that other pillar of Islam, plays an important role during Ramadan, when the fortunate are meant to show generosity to the less-fortunate. Many Muslims take the opportunity to donate their annual charity, called "Zakat."
When does Ramadan begin every year?
It depends on the Islamic calendar, which is based on lunar phases.
Ramadan falls on the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. It traditionally begins when worshippers spot the "Hilal," the crescent moon that follows the astronomical new moon.
The start of Ramadan can differ by a day or two from country to country, depending on the moon-sighting methodologies that religious authorities in different countries use.
Ramadan began Tuesday evening in the U.S. It begins Thursday in many Muslim countries, including Saudi Arabia.
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