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Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. A lunar month is approximately 29.5 days, which is the time it takes for the moon to orbit Earth. Since a lunar month is, on average, one day shorter than a solar month, a lunar year is 10 to 12 days shorter than a solar year. Therefore, Ramadan comes 10 to 12 days earlier each year and so moves through the seasons, providing equal conditions for people living in different lands.

A new lunar month begins when, during the moon’s orbit around Earth, the moon is in conjunction with the sun and the sun’s light hits the side of the moon that is turned away from Earth. In this position, the moon is said to be a “new moon,” with its dark side turned toward Earth. By definition, a new moon is not visible from Earth, as the sun’s light shines only on the side facing Earth.

As the moon continues to orbit around Earth, it starts to form a crescent. This will be minutes after the new moon forms, even though the crescent will not be visible for several hours. In some traditional Islamic countries, Muslims do not start fasting until they see the actual crescent. This event is confirmed by sighting the new moon, even if it is seen by only one person, or by the passage of 30 days in the immediately preceding month of Sha’ban. However, according to some modern scholars, God has given us scientific knowledge to determine exactly when a lunar month will begin and end. Therefore, any observatory or other astronomy-related center should have this information for the area in which we live.

Fasting starts on the first dawn of the new month. During the few hours between the new moon and the following dawn, Muslims can eat and drink, and then start fasting when the first thread of light is observed in the sky.