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Ramadan Begins At Sundown

A man reads the Quran inside a mosque in Hamburg, northern Germany. i i

A man reads the Quran inside a mosque in Hamburg, northern Germany. Frank Augstein/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Frank Augstein/AP
A man reads the Quran inside a mosque in Hamburg, northern Germany.

A man reads the Quran inside a mosque in Hamburg, northern Germany.

Frank Augstein/AP

The holiest month in the Islamic year begins tonight when Ramadan arrives. Beliefnet says its significance comes from the Prophet Mohammed, who received the Quran during this time. Muslims are encouraged to read the entire book, fast during daylight hours and perform charitable works.

You can read the Quran here.

If you want to be wowed, check out this HBO documentary called Koran By Heart. Filmmaker Greg Barker told NPR's Talk of the Nation it follows three of 100 children from around the world who flew to Cairo during Ramadan, 2010 for a Quran recitation competition. Baker says the children recite brilliantly:

So a passage is chosen at random. They're given the first line of a passage and the end line, and they have to fill in the middle. And that can be up to three or four - in some cases, even six -minutes long, and they have to do it exactly right, from memory. And they also have to get the - the timing and the pronunciation exactly right.

But then what's amazing is the - what we think of as a melody - non-Muslims would call them the melody, or the intonation - is completely up to the individual reciter.

So you have these 10-year-old kids who are, you know, almost like jazz musicians, kind of riffing and sort of very much going into the moment and sort of reciting the Koran in an incredibly moving, spiritual way. So it's an amazing act of memory, and also of artistry.

Ramadan ends with the Eid al Fitr holiday, which falls around August 17.

Update at 12:36 p.m. ET. When Is Eid?:

Depending on the country or the belief, Eid al Fitr will fall around Aug. 17. As Ahmed Al Omran wrote for us last year, it's a debate that has raged for 14 centuries.

"Since the Islamic calendar is lunar, rather than solar, each month begins when the moon is sighted," Ahmed wrote. And moon sighting — if you don't believe it can should be determined by astronomical calculations — can be an imperfect science.

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