The world's 1.6 billion Muslims are preparing for the approaching holy month of Ramadan, a 29- or 30-day period of fasting that takes place during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. This year, Ramadan will begin on 6 June and lasts until 5 July, when the religious holiday of Eid al-Fitr begins.

The timings can change globally, as dates in the Islamic calendar are based on astronomical calculations. This means that fasting may start daily at different times around the world.

Ramadan woman child
A Malaysian woman and her child breaking their fast during RamadanGetty

Ramadan, one the of the Five Pillars of Islam, is the annual period of fasting, prayer and philanthropy that is at the heart of the observance of Islam.

Muslims believe that the Prophet Muhammed received the final part of a series of revelations from God during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, which became the Quran.

The typical greeting during Ramadan is "Ramadan Mubarak" or "Ramadan Kareem".

What happens during Ramadan?

During Ramadan, practicing Muslims who have reached puberty will abstain from food and drink during daylight hours. Fasting is intended to help teach self-discipline and restraint while reflecting on life choices, priorities and plans.

Eid al-Fitr
Filipino Muslims leave after attending Eid al-Fitr prayers at the Pink Mosque in Datu Saudi Ampatuan town in the Maguindanao provinceMarconi Navales/Reuters

It is common to break the fast daily with one meal, known as 'suhoor', just before sunrise and to have another after sunset called 'iftar'. Families and friends tend to come together to break the fast and share meals. Some groups are exempt from fasting, such as pregnant women, diabetics, the sick and the elderly. Those observing Ramadan also try to give up bad habits over the month, while praying, reading the Quran and attending services in mosques.

Charitable giving is also a major part of Ramadan because of its links with 'sadaqah' – the concept of giving and carrying out good deeds to help other people.

What is Eid al-Fitr?

The end of Ramadan is marked by a festival entitled Eid al-Fitr, during which Muslims celebrate the end of fasting as well as giving thanks to Allah for the strength to practice self-restraint over the month.

Services in mosques, street parades and celebrations take place for Eid al-Fitr. Known as the Feast of the Breaking of the Fast, special meals are prepared and eaten to mark the beginning of the first day of the Islamic month of Shawwal. A traditional greeting is 'Eid Mubarak', translating as 'Blessed Eid'.