How much do you know about the holiday of Ramadan?

By: Abi Luftig
Image: Shutterstock

About This Quiz

This religious holiday is both feast and fast for hundreds of thousands of people all around the world. It's history and traditions are as varied as the lives of those who celebrate it. But how much do you know about Ramadan?

Ramadan is celebrated by the followers of what major religion?

Ramadan is celebrated world-wide by Muslims, followers of the Islamic faith.

Of the three major religions of the world (Christianity, Islam, and Judaism), where does Islam rank in terms of number of followers?

Islam is the second largest religion in the world, with over one billion followers. It has spread across the world, but its roots trace back to Arabia.

During which month of the Islamic lunar calendar does Ramadan take place?

Ramadan is observed during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, the Hijri. The month's name in the calendar is Ramadan. The other eleven months of the year are (in order) Muḥarram (forbidden), Ṣafar (void), Rabī‘ al-awwal (the first spring), Rabī‘ ath-thānī (the second spring), Jumādá al-ūlá (the first of parched land), Jumādá al-ākhirah (the last of parched land), Rajab (respect, honour), Sha‘bān (scattered), Ramadan, Shawwāl (raised), Dhū al-Qa‘dah (the one of truce/sitting), and Dhū al-Ḥijjah (the one of pilgrimage).

What does Ramadan mean in English?

Ramadan is translated as "scorching" or "burning heat." The scorch/burn is said to relate to the burning of earthly desires through fasting.

Charity is a huge aspect of Ramadan. Which is NOT a customary charitable act done during Ramadan?

Charity (Zakāt) is emphasized during Ramadan, as it is one of the Five Pillars of Islam. The other four pillars are faith (Shahada), prayer (Salat), fasting (Sawm), and pilgrimage (Hajj).

The beginning and end dates of Ramadan change every year. Approximately how far does the start date jump every year?

Because Islam, like Judaism, functions on a lunar calendar, holidays do not fall on the same date from year to year on the corresponding Gregorian calendar. Every year, the start date of Ramadan shifts by approximately eleven days. In 2016, it began on June 6th. In 2017, it began on May 27th. In 2018, it will begin May 16th.

Popular in Pakistan and the Indian subcontinent, Biryani is a dish based on what?

A popular fixture in Indian restaurants and curry houses around the world, Biryani is a dish that mixes rice, lentils, spices, vegetables, and meat (usually beef or lamb, although some Western versions include chicken.)

How many days are in the month of Ramadan?

The Islamic lunar calendar uses sightings of crescent moons in order to determine the start and finish of the month of Ramadan. On average, the month has 29-30 days.

Many Muslims choose to begin Ramadan based on physical sightings of the moon specific to their location, but others choose to follow a declaration issued by what Muslim-majority country?

Since the phases of the moon appear at different locations around the globe at different times, it makes sense that different countries celebrate Ramadan at different times from each other. It's usually only about 24 hours difference, so it's not a big deal.

Perhaps the best-known aspect of Ramadan is that Muslims abstain from what during the month?

During Ramadan, fasting Muslims abstain from food, water, and sexual contact from sunup to sundown. While it may seem extreme to non-followers of the faith, devout Muslims believe that by removing material desires and temptations, they are better able to devote themselves to the service of God and the community. Some Muslims also abstain from cursing, anger, and greed.

What is the term for the ritual fasting during Ramadan?

The term for ritual Islamic fasting is "Sawm," meaning "to abstain." Fasting is one of the Five Pillars of Islam, the other four being Faith, Prayer, Charity, and Pilgrimage.

Which groups are excused from fasting?

It's a common misconception that each and every Muslim is required to fast. Exceptions are made for people who are ill, traveling or otherwise "unsettled," those whose age presents a risk (the very young and the very old), and pregnant and/or new mothers. Women may break their fast during their periods but are expected to return to the fast once their period has ended.

Is this statement true or false: There are no legal penalties anywhere for failing to fast during Ramadan?

There are several countries in the modern-day world that enact legal punishment for those who fail to fast or those who break their fast. In Algeria in 2008, six people were sentenced to four years in prison. In Kuwait, an offender might pay a fine of 100 Kuwaiti dinars, (about US$330) and/or spend a month in jail. In Saudi Arabia, considered to the most extreme in terms of fasting punishments, there have been reports of floggings and deportations. But it's not all bad; Malaysia proudly boasts never having doled out a punishment.

What is the name of the pre-dawn meal eaten by Muslims during Ramadan?

Since the fast is observed from sunrise to sunset, Muslims partake in a pre-dawn meal known as the Suhur. This helps to offset the physical and emotional side effects of fasting.

The Mesaharati is a person who walks the streets before sunrise awakening people so that they may eat suhur. He sings holy songs and plays what instrument?

Every day for the entire month of Ramadan, the Mesaharati walks the streets, loudly banging a drum and singing to awaken the townsfolk. The tradition is still practiced in Gulf countries but is more symbolic than practical since the advent of alarm clocks and other technological advances.

What is the name of sunset meal meant to break the fast?

When the sun goes down, Muslims break their fast by partaking in Iftar. Traditionally, Muslims choose to break their fast by eating three dates, in honor of The Prophet Mohammed breaking his fast with three dates. Iftar can be a small meal eaten with family or a large buffet that doubles as a social gathering.

The suhur is announced by the Mesaharati. What is used to announce the iftar?

In many countries, the start of the iftar is announcing by striking the bedug, a ceremonial drum. It is suspended in the air and hit with a padded mallet. It is made with water buffalo hide on either side of the drum.

During the festivities of Iftar, many delicacies are served and are often particular to specific countries. One such delicacy is the Palestinian treat, kunafa. What is kunafa made from?

Kunafa is a Palestinian delicacy and is well-known in the Muslim world for being delicious. This street food is made by combining hot, soft cheese and semolina dough, covering it in syrup and crushed pistachios. The concoction is then colored with dye to be bright orange.

A favorite across the Middle East, Haleem is what type of dish?

While always based on wheat, barley, lentils, and meat, Haleem is a dish with as many regional names as it has varieties. The Turkish version, Keşkek, adds sheep's milk. Persian countries make their Harees more sweet than savory, adding cinnamon and clarified butter. The vegetarian version, named Khichri is popular in the Indian subcontinent.

Navy bean soup is a popular iftar dish in which country?

Navy bean soup is a popular Iftar dish in the United States. The "navy" in navy beans does not refer to the color of the beans (which are white), but to their history as a culinary staple of the US Navy in the early 20th century.

What is the correct way to greet someone during Ramadan?

Ramadan Mubarak is the most common greeting used during Ramadan (especially on the first day) and translates to "Have a blessed Ramadan." Other accepted greetings are Ramadan Kareem ("may Ramadan be generous to you") or simply Happy Ramadan if you are less than confident in your Arabic fluency.

Nations around the world boast proud Muslim populations. Which nation has the largest Muslim population in the world?

Surprisingly to many, the country with the largest population of Muslims is not in the Gulf area. The honor goes to Indonesia, with approximately 12.7% of the world's Muslim population. Pakistan is second with 11%, and India comes in at a surprising third with 10%. 87.2% of the Indonesian population is Muslim. Mauritania and Maldives are the only nations in the world that have a 100% Muslim population.

As an island nation with a large and diverse population, Indonesia is home to many differing Ramadan traditions. One such tradition is to bathe in holy springs, a ritual known as what?

On the island of Java, Muslims bathe in holy springs as a way to cleanse themselves for the upcoming fast. A week before Ramadan begins, Muslims form a procession to the holy springs while carrying baskets of food on their heads. After cleansing, they share a communal prayer and eat off of banana leaves.

Another Javanese tradition is nyekar, which involves Muslims visiting what site?

Another pre-fasting tradition that takes place in the week leading up to Ramadan is nyekar, where Javanese Muslims visit the graves of their dearly departed family members to decorate the graves and pray. Java is the most populated of the approximately 17,000 islands that make up Indonesia.

In Jakarta, what was once used to wake people for their morning prayers?

Jakarta, the capital city of Java, is heavily influenced by Chinese culture and traditions. Jakarta residents blended the Muslim tradition of being awoken by the Mesaharati with the Chinese tradition of letting off firecrackers for the New Year. This tradition ended in the 19th Century.

One more Indonesian tradition: The city of Semarang welcomes the start of Ramadan with a festival known as Dugderan. The mascot of Dugderan is the Warak ngendog, a puppet made to resemble a blend of creatures. Which creature is NOT part of the Warak ngendog?

Despite ending with the syllable "dog," there is no canine representation in the Warak ngendog. It is described as part giraffe, part lion, part dragon (another nod to Chinese influence in the region), part horse, part bird, and part goat. It's actually pretty cute.

Not all Ramadan traditions come from Indonesia. What country claims credit for the origin of fanoo (decorative lanterns)?

Although they are now used around the world to celebrate Ramadan, the tradition of hanging lanterns began in Egypt, specifically Cairo. They are typically made of metal and colored glass and are hung from doorways, tents, and street lights.

The Iraqi game of Siniyah is played by men after Iftar to try to find what object?

Specific to the troubled city of Kirkuk, the game of Siniyah (the tray game) has been enjoyed for generations. Essentially, men are given trays with several copper cups on them, one of which is covering a die. The object is to find the die under the correct cup.

The 14th day of Ramadan, Garangao, is a special treat for children. Why?

The Gulf tradition of Garangao involves children dressing up in traditional attire, walking around their neighborhoods, and singing the Garangao song while using rocks for rhythm instruments and carrying decorated bags. In appreciation for their song (and to reward them for doing so well during the first half of the fast), neighbors give the children nuts and sweets, which are carried around in the bags.

In many countries, it is customary to make Ramadan bags containing what?

Another example of focusing on charity, many Muslims assemble Ramadan bags to distribute to the less fortunate to help sustain them during the month of Ramadan. These bags typically include rice, pasta, sugar, oil, and cans of tomatoes. In some nations, young students make the bags in school to help learn the values behind the tradition and the holiday.

Who was the first U.S. President to acknowledge Ramadan?

On December 9, 1805, President Thomas Jefferson was entertaining a diplomatic envoy from Tunis (then part of the Ottoman Empire). Jefferson deliberately postponed the evening's dinner festivities until the sun went down in order to accommodate the Tunisian man. This is considered by many historians to be the first (but not the last) White House Iftar.

Jefferson's Iftar was unofficial. Who was in the White House for the first official Iftar?

The first official White House Iftar was hosted by President Bill and First Lady Hillary Clinton in 1996. The Iftar tradition was upheld by Presidental couples George W. and Laura Bush and Barack and Michelle Obama until 2016. 2017 marked the first time in 20 years where a White House Iftar was not held.

Not to be outdone by their neighbors to the south, Canada also began hosting official Iftar dinners in 2015. Which Canadian Prime Minister began the tradition?

In 2015, Prime Minister Stephen Harper officially extended an invitation to Muslim leaders to attend an Iftar dinner at 24 Sussex, the official residence of the Prime Minister. Harper was a Conservative who led Canada from 2006 to 2015.

When is the "Night of Power"?

Laylat al-Qadr, or The Night of Power, is the name given to the night when the first verses of the Quran were revealed to Mohammad. No one knows the exact date, but it is generally believed to be in the last 10 days of Ramadan. Muslims believe that on this night, sins are forgiven and blessings are more powerful.

How does Ramadan end?

Eid ul-Fitr means The Feast of Fast-Breaking. It begins the day after Ramadan ends and lasts for three days. There are feasts and celebrations.

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