Do all Muslims have to fast during Ramadan?
Certain people are exempt from taking part in the Ramadan fast. Children, the sick, the elderly, the mentally handicapped, and anyone who would be putting their health at serious risk by fasting are not obliged to do so during Ramadan.
There are also certain circumstances where people normally able to fast are unable to, such as when people are on a tiring journey or if a woman is pregnant, and in these instances the person must make up the fast at a later date, or provide meals to the needy in order to make up for breaking the fast.
When can Muslims eat and drink during Ramadan?
Muslims can eat and drink as long as the sun has set. It it sometimes said that the way to tell whether it is dark enough to break the fast is to hold up a white thread with a black thread outdoors and see if you can tell the difference between the two.
It's only OK to eat when you can no longer tell the difference. However, British Muslims all receive a timetable each year which they follow, containing precise calculations for the time of dawn and dusk.
Why do the dates of Ramadan change each year?
The exact dates of Ramadan change every year because Islam uses a lunar calendar, which means that each month begins with the sighting of a new moon. Because lunar months are shorter than the solar months used elsewhere, Islamic holidays begin on different days each year.
The start of Ramadan comes around 11 days earlier each year according to the western Gregorian calendar, and consequently is not associated with any particular western month. For Muslims living in Britain, the fast may therefore be comparatively short if Ramadan falls during the winter months, or much longer if it occurs during the summer.