Photos by Mark Mattos and John Ochira 

Ramadan is an especially spiritual month for Muslims. This year, Ramadan began in the U.S. on the evening of March 22 and ended on the evening of April 21, at the waning crescent moon. The Muslim calendar is lunar-based, so dates change from year to year. 
During the month of Ramadan, Muslims try to strengthen their relationship with Allah (the Arabic name for God) and behave in the way Islam teaches. The observance of Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam – one of the five main duties associated with being Muslim. Islam emphasizes the importance of being charitable toward others, and Muslims believe that fasting during Ramadan helps them learn to be charitable. 

During Ramadan many Muslims attend mosque more frequently, try to read the Qur’an from beginning to end (some more than once), increase their charitable giving, and generally practice self-restraint. The idea is to focus on one’s relationship with God. According to Islam, Ramadan commemorates the month when the Qur’an, the Holy Book of Islam, was first revealed to Muslims through the Angel Gabriel by the Prophet Muhammad. As such, it is considered a blessed month, and for most Muslims, it is a joyous month. 

Those who fast take nothing into their bodies from sunrise to sunset throughout the month, believing that the hunger and thirst they experience while fasting teaches them empathy. Certain categories of people are exempted from fasting, such as children who have not reached puberty, adults who are sick, and the elderly. At sunset each day, Muslims break their fast, first with a small meal before prayers, and then with a larger meal — called iftar — shared with friends and family. The evening meals are festive and generous.