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Q: OK, so I know Ramadan changes with the lunar calendar, and I know the basics of how Muslims observe the holiday. But someone told me the word "Ramadan" actually means something like "a horrible experience"…what’s up with that?

A: Well, considering that Ramadan is a time of fasting and self-denial, a definition in that vein wouldn’t be too far off. According to several sources, one of the most common definitions of where the word "Ramadan" originated would include "intense heat," "scorched earth" and "shortness" of food and water.

Considering that Ramadan usually falls during one of the hotter times of the year, those descriptions would be pretty accurate. Ramadan, of course, is observed by fasting from sunrise to sunset. Throughout the period, specifics events are marked, including the "Night of Decrees," or "Laylat al-Qadr," which marks the night when the first verses of the Quran were revealed. Of course, no specific date for the night is given, traditionally explained this way: only God and Mohammed know the night, because they don’t want Muslims to pray only that day.

Ramadan begins on Sept. 2 this year. After around 29 or 30 days, depending on the stages of the moon, Ramadan ends with the holiday of Eid al-Fitr.

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