Ramadan guide: A glossary of terms

There are a number of terms associated with Ramadan that you might hear. But do you know what they mean?

Ramadan, or Ramzaan as it’s known in many parts of the world, falls in the ninth month of the Islamic calendar year and is the Muslim fasting month. It is a period of reflection, worship and complete devotion to God and is also a time for families and friends to come together. Its name originates from the Arabic word ramad, meaning heat or dryness, as the first Ramadan was observed during the summer. Similar to how the sun scorches the earth during the summer, this month is considered a period to scorch away evil, making the name even more symbolic. 

Hilal is the new moon or crescent that confirms the start of a new Islamic month. The Islamic calendar is based on lunar months, with each month lasting either 29 or 30 days. Special sighting committees are set up in most Muslim countries to catch a glimpse of the Hilal.


One of the most common Ramadan greetings exchanged at the start of the month is the phrase Ramadan Mubarak, which means congratulations on the arrival of the holy month. 

Another popular greeting is Ramadan Kareem, which literally means ‘Generous Ramadan’. Since the fasting period is an opportunity for Muslims to receive many blessings and be thankful, the month is considered generous.

[Wish family and friends a happy Ramadan with our greeting cards]


Sawm (fasting) is one of the Five Pillars of Islam; it is a form of worship that is mandatory for Muslims during the month of Ramadan. The fast requires Muslims to abstain from food, drink, sexual intimacy and any negative behaviour from dawn until dusk, devoting their time to worship and remembrance of Allah (God).

Imsak refers to the start of a fast and begins when the first light of dawn becomes visible, shortly before the dawn call to prayer (Fajr).

Qada is an Arabic term meaning fulfilling. In Ramadan, it refers to making up missed fasts due to travelling, sickness etc. This can be done on any day of the year except on the days of Eid Al Fitr and Eid Al Adha.

Fidya is the compensation for missing a fast. If you are unable to fast, or if you commit certain mistakes while fasting, you need to offer Fidya, which can be in form of donating money or foodstuff, or sacrificing an animal. This is very different from Kaffara.

Kaffara is a penalty or expiation offered when one deliberately breaks his or her fast. To complete Kaffara, a Muslim must fast for sixty continuous days, or if unable to do so, should feed sixty needy persons or donate an amount equal to feeding sixty persons to charity. If one chooses to fast sixty days and the continuity is interrupted for any reason, except menstruation, one has to start the sixty-day cycle all over again.


Suhoor or Sahri is the meal consumed at dawn before the start of the fast.

Iftar or Iftari is the sunset meal to ends the day’s fast. Iftar is a time for family and friends to come together to break the fast and usually consists of a spread traditional treats.

Dates: It is customary to break the fast with this sweet fruit, following the Sunnah (practice) of the Prophet Mohammed. Dates are rich in several vitamins and minerals, which release a burst of energy when consumed.


or alms-giving is one of the pillars of Islam which requires adult Muslims to pay 2.5% of their wealth and assets, including income, property, gold or harvest, to the poor and needy. The Zakat is applicable on wealth that is in excess of one’s basic needs that has stayed in your possession for one whole lunar year. Whilst this charity may be given during any time of the year, it is common practice to pay this amount during Ramadan. Zakat is prescribed and different from Sadaqah, which is voluntary charity.

Zakat Al Fitr is a special form of charity that Muslims are required to offer before the end of Ramadan. It is meant to give the poor and needy a means to celebrate Eid Al Fitr, the festival that marks the end of Ramadan.


Salah or prayer is another pillar of Islam.

Muslims must complete ritual prayers five times a day. The first prayer is at dawn (Fajr), followed by prayers at noon (Zuhr), mid-afternoon (Asr), sunset (Maghrib), and night (Isha)

Rakat: Each prayer consists of a set of prescribed actions, recitations and supplications known as rakat. Each prayer consists of a different number of rakats, usually in twos or fours.

Ramadan-specific prayers

Tarawih: During the month of Ramadan, special congregational prayers known as Tarawih are held every evening. These voluntary prayers consist of eight to 20 rakats or units, depending on which Islamic school of thought you follow. People are encouraged to offer Tarawih in mosques.

Lailatul Qadr, or the Night of Power, is the night that the Quran was first revealed to Prophet Mohammad. The exact date is unknown, but it may fall on any of the odd nights in the last 10 days of Ramadan (21st, 23rd, 25th, 27th or 29th day of the month of Ramadan). Special late night prayers known as Qiyam-ul-Lail are held in mosques as Muslims ‘seek’ this glorious night. As revealed in the Quran, praying on this night equates prayers of a thousand months.

Itikaaf is the practice of spiritual retreat or isolation that some Muslims carry out during the last 10 days of Ramadan. It can be completed in a mosque or at home and requires a person to dedicate their time solely to prayer, reflection and recitation of the Quran.

Eid prayers: The end of Ramadan is marked with a celebration known as Eid Al Fitr. On the morning of Eid, Muslims flock to mosques or special designated open areas for the prayers. En route to the Eid prayers, the Takbir is recited in congregation. 

Takbir refers to the phrase ‘Allah-u-Akbar’, which literally means ‘God is Great’. It is mainly used as an expression of faith, but is also repeated in every step of every rakat in prayer.


The Quran is the holy book of Islam, believed by Muslims to be the word of Allah. The Quran consists of 114 chapters of varying length, divided into 30 volumes. It was first revealed to the Prophet Mohammed during the month of Ramadan, and is a guide to all mankind. Muslims are encouraged to complete reading the Quran during the fasting month of Ramadan.

Sunnah refers to the practice of the Prophet Mohammed, whose life and customs is a model for all Muslims. Whether it is in prayer or habits, Muslims are encouraged to emulate the life of the Prophet.

Hadith are the collective sayings attributed to the Prophet. From Hadith and together with Sunnah, Muslims can draw explanations and best practices of Muslim life.

Another form of worship other than Salah is Dhikr, which is loudly or silently repeating the name of God or supplications from the Holy Quran or Hadiths. Often Dhikr is done using a string of beads called Tasbeeh,  Subha or Misbaha.

Taqwa is piety or achieving God-consciousness. It is a state of being where a Muslim strives for spiritual satisfaction. It is similar to when people try to attain balance in all aspects of life. The level of Taqwa is particularly strong in Ramadan.


Eid Al Fitr is the three-day Muslim celebration that marks the end of Ramadan. Eid is made up of prayers, visits from friends and family, tasty treats and desserts and gifts.  Muslims also seek forgiveness from Allah and start afresh following a month of fasting. It also marks the first day of Shawwal, which is the tenth month in the Islamic calendar.

The other Muslim celebration is Eid Al Adha, which takes place in the final month of the Islamic calendar after the annual pilgrimage known as Hajj. Eid Al Adha is marked in solidarity with the millions of Muslims who embark on a once-in-a-lifetime journey to Mecca and Madinah for Hajj. As part of the celebration, Muslims are required to sacrifice an animal and distribute its meat amongst family, friends and the needy.

Get more Ramadan news
Five things you may not know about Ramadan
Healthy eating this Ramadan