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Though Ramadan is the month of the fast, it is also the month “in which the Quran was sent down as a guidance for mankind” (2:186). In the last 10 days of Ramadan, Muslims observe laylat ul qadr. Often translated as “the Night of Power,” some Muslims prefer it translated as “the Night of Destiny” or “the Night of Decree.”

In any case, Surah al Qadr (chapter 97) of the Quran states:

Surely we sent it down on the Night of Power. And what is the Night of Power?
The Night of Power is better than a thousand months.
On it the angels and the spirit descend at the command of the Lord.
It is peace until the break of dawn.

According to Muslim belief, it was on the Night of Power that the Quran was first revealed. The Quran’s assertion that the Night of Power is better than a thousand months leads Muslims to intensify their spiritual practices toward the end of Ramadan. The exact day on which the Night of Power falls is not clear other than that it is on an odd–numbered day during the last 10 days of the month.

Pious Muslims, therefore, observe it on the odd–numbered days of Ramadan, starting on the 21st day. During this period, some Muslims practice itikaf, or a type of retreat in which they spend all their time in the mosque. During the day, they observe the fast with prayers and by reading the Quran. During the night after the breaking of the fast, they continue their spiritual practices and discipline.

Just as Ramadan began with the sighting of the crescent of the new moon, the celebration of Eid ul Fitr, or the feast of the Breaking of the Fast, begins with the sighting of the new moon. The sighting marks the end of the fast and the beginning of perhaps the most joyous Muslim festivals.

Eid ul Fitr is one of two major feasts on the Muslim calendar. The other is Eid al Adha, or the feast of Sacrifice, which falls on the 10th day of the 12th month of the Muslim calendar, after the completion of the hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca. The feast commemorates the sacrifice of Abraham, in which an animal is substituted for Ishmael, his son.

The importance of the two feasts in Islam shares an interesting parallel with Easter and Christmas in Christianity. Though Easter and Eid al Adha are theologically the most important festivals in Christianity and Islam respectively, Christmas and Eid ul Fitr are the festivals that capture the hearts of most believers.

Eid ul Fitr begins before daybreak with a prayer, followed later by a prayer at dawn. For three days, Muslims celebrate the feast with decorations, special meals, visits with relatives and gift giving to children. Though works of charity constitute a central component of Ramadan, Muslims are especially careful during Eid ul Fitr to remember those less fortunate. The third pillar of Islam is zakat, or almsgiving. Though different schools of jurisprudence calculate it somewhat differently, zakat generally requires a Muslim to donate 2.5 percent of his or her wealth to charity. Though technically this can be done at any time of the year, many Muslims choose to give most or all of their charitable donations during Eid ul Fitr.

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