Ramadan 2012 is starting on Friday, the 20th of July and will continue for 30 days until Saturday, the 18th of August.
In 2011 it was from the 1st of August until Tuesday, the 30th of August.
Muslims believe ramadan is an auspicious month, being the month in which the first verses of the Qur’an were revealed to the Islamic prophet, Muhammad. The word ramadan is derived from an Arabic root R-M-Ḍ denoting intense heat, scorched ground and shortness of rations.
The Islamic calendar, Muslim calendar or Hijri calendar is a lunar calendar (for that reason not synchronized with the seasons) consisting of 12 lunar months in a (solar) year with 354 or 355 days, having so an annual drift of 10 or 11 days. the seasonal relation repeats about every 33 Islamic years. This difference means also ramadan moves in the Gregorian calendar approximately 11 days per year. The starting date of ramadan may also vary from country to country depending on whether the moon has been sighted or not. Cause of the moon sightability, for example, in North America ramadan 2012 is starting in North America a day later – on Saturday, the 21st of July.
Those dates are based on astronomical calculations and not on the actual sighting of the moon with the naked eyes.
Sawm (in arabic: صوم) is the word for fasting, abstaining from eating, drinking (including water), having sex and everything against Islamic law (Ithm). The observance of sawm during the ramadan is one of the Five Pillars of Islam.
According to the Muslim tradition, a holiday begins on the sunset of the previous day, so observing Muslims are celebrating ramadan on the sunset of Thursday, the 19th of July 2012.
The Hijri months are named as follows in Arabic:
Muḥarram — المحرّم, “forbidden” — so called because it was unlawful (haram) to fight during this month; it is the second most sacred Muslim month and includes the Day of Ashura.
Ṣafar — صفر, “void” — so named because pagan Arabs looted during this month and left the houses empty.
Rabīʿ I (Rabīʿ al-Awwal) — ربيع الأوّل, “the first spring”.
Rabīʿ II (Rabīʿ ath-Thānī or Rabīʿ al-Ākhir) — ربيع الثاني or ربيع الآخر, “the second (or last) spring”.
Jumādā I (Jumādā al-Ūlā) — جمادى الأولى, “the first month of parched land”. Considered the pre-Islamic “summer”.
Jumādā II (Jumādā ath-Thāniya or Jumādā al-Ākhira) — جمادى الثانية or جمادى الآخرة, “the second (or last) month of parched land”.
Rajab — رجب, “respect” or “honor”. This is another sacred month, during which fighting was traditionally forbidden.
Shaʿbān — شعبان, “scattered”, reminding the time of year when Arab tribes dispersed searching for water.
Ramaḍān — رمضان, “scorched”. the most venerated month of the Hijri calendar, during which Muslims fast between dawn and sunset.
Shawwāl — شوّال, “raised”, as she-camels begin to raise their tails during this time of the year, after giving birth.
Dhū al-Qaʿda — ذو القعدة, “the one of truce”. Dhu al-Qa’da was another month during which war was banned.
Dhū al-Ḥijja — ذو الحجّة, “the one of pilgrimage”, referring to the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, the Hajj.