Muslims around the world believe that Ramadan—the ninth month of the Islamic calendar—is the month in which God revealed the Koran to the Prophet Muhammad. During Ramadan, the gates of heaven are open, the gates of hell are closed, and Muslims around the world observe their faith by fasting from sunrise to sunset.
Muslims fast during Ramadan to purify themselves and to better understand the plight of those who suffer from hunger. Ramadan is also a period during which Muslims strive to abstain from impure thoughts and behavior, to read the Koran and pray, and to think of God.
The end of Ramadan is celebrated with a three-day Eid al-Fitr (Festival of Fast-Breaking). In this photo, hundreds of thousands of Muslims observe Eid al-Fitr in prayer at the great al-Masjid al-Haram mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. In just over two months, a few million Muslims will travel to Mecca for the hajj, or pilgrimage.
PHOTOGRAPH BY AFP/GETTY IMAGES
Waking Before Sunrise
Before sunrise, and before the first morning prayer, a Syrian mesaharati ("public waker") beats his drum to wake Muslim residents of a town northeast of Damascus so that they can eat their first meal of the day.
Photograph by Sam Tarling/AFP/Getty Images.
A man arranges vermicelli, a type of pasta eaten during Ramadan, at a factory in northern India. Sweet vermicelli is one of the main dishes served during iftar, the fast-breaking meal that Muslims eat after sunset.
Photograph by Jitendra Prakash, Reuters.
On the evening of the first day of Ramadan, Muslim women at a mosque in East Java attend Tarawih. Tarawih are special evening prayers done during Ramadan, when long passages of the Koran are recited or read aloud.
Photograph by Sigit Pamungkas, Reuters.
Traveling to the Festival
Indonesian Muslims travel by boat to celebrate Eid al-Fitr in their capital of Jakarta. The festival begins with the first sunset after the new moon, the lunar phase that also began their fast the month before.
Photograph by Jefri Tarigan, Rex Features.
Crowd at the Border
Waiting to cross the border into Israel, a Palestinian woman speaks with an Israeli policeman. Like thousands of other Palestinians during Ramadan, she is traveling to pray at the Al Aqsa Mosque, one of the holiest sites in Islam.
Photograph by Warrick Page, Panos Pictures.
The Holy Book
A boy stares at a large Koran while waiting to break his fast on the second day of Ramadan in Indonesia. The Koran says that Muslims practice fasting so that they "may learn piety and righteousness."
Photograph by Yusuf Ahmad, Reuters.
Eid al-Fitr Prayer
Muslim men in Moscow observe Eid al-Fitr with prayer. In Russia, Muslims make up more than 5 percent of the population.
Photograph by Алексей Куденко, Camera Press.
Two men pray inside the Jama Masjid during their fast. The Jama Masjid in Delhi is the largest mosque in India. In the evening, hundreds will gather in the mosque's courtyard to break their fast with iftar.
Photograph by Ami Vitale, Panos Pictures.
Taking a Break
A fasting student rests during her Koran class at an Islamic boarding school in northern Sumatra. Although Muslim children are not expected to participate in the fast until they reach puberty, some children fast for part of the day or some of the days with their parents and older siblings.
Photograph by Binsar Bakkara, AP Photo.
Celebrating Ramadan's End
Three Palestinian women enjoy the crash of the Mediterranean Sea in Tel Aviv, Israel, during Eid al-Fitr. The festival, which lasts about three days, is celebrated with prayer, family activities, and community festivities.
Photograph by Oded Balilty, AP Photo.
Breaking Their Fast
South Asian workers in a labor camp in the United Arab Emirates enjoy their last iftar before Eid al-Fitr begins.
Traditionally, iftar begins with dates and water, in honor of the way that the Prophet Muhammad broke his fast. An imam at the labor camp said that more than a thousand workers break their fasts in the camp's streets every night during Ramadan.
Photograph by Jonas Bendiksen, Magnum Photos.
Iftar in the Courtyard
Muslims break their fast in the courtyard of the Jama Masjid in New Delhi, India, on the first night of Ramadan. They are some of the estimated 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide, many of whom will abstain from daytime food and drink during the ninth Islamic month.
Photograph by Manish Swarup, AP Photo.
Before the Cannon Fires
A Bosnian man talks to a visitor before setting off a firework cannon to mark the end of the day's Ramadan fast in Sarajevo. About 40 percent of Bosnia's 3.8 million residents are Muslim.
Photograph by Amel Emric, AP Photo.
Jumping Through Fire
In Java, Indonesia, a young Muslim man jumps through a flaming rope during the celebration marking the end of Ramadan. The capital of East Java will mark the beginning of Eid al-Fitr with the Surabaya Carnival Night Market.