These days the word Ramadan may imply nothing more than the name of the holy month of fasting for all Muslims. But, as is the case with all Arabic names, month names have a special meaning and significance.
Names usually refer to stories or specific incidents: some are historically documented, while others come from traditions and legacies handed down from generation to generation, but cannot be verified.
Most resources agree that the name Ramadan is derived from the source ramad, meaning heat or, more specifically, the intense heat of the sun. Does that mean that Ramadan always fell in summer?
The fact is that the old Arabic calendar was based on lunar months and solar years. This meant that the year was composed of 12 lunar months, but the Arabs of olden times would allow for the shift of the months within the seasons by adding an extra month every three years. This was known as 'postponement', the aim of which was to ensure that the months conformed to both the seasons and the solar year.
Most historians give several reasons for 'postponement'. One reason was the commercial and trade considerations of neighbouring markets, with the Syriac calendar in use in the Levant and the Coptic calendar in Egypt. Another was to have definite dates for certain rituals, celebrations and festivals (like the yearly pilgrimage, Hajj, and the ancient open Okaz market, for example), allowing these events to take place during specific seasons and climates.
Nowadays, however, Muslims observe an 11-day, annual shift of Ramadan within each solar year. This is because Islam forbade 'postponement', considering it to be a violation of the rules of the sacred months. Verse 37 of Al-Tawba in the Quran states:
"Postponement (of a sacred month) is only an excess of disbelief whereby those who disbelieve are misled; they allow it one year and forbid it (another) year, that they may make up the number of the months which Allah hath hallowed, so that they allow that which Allah hath forbidden. The evil of their deeds is made fair-seeming unto them. Allah guideth not the disbelieving folk."*
Regardless of its history or timing, Ramadan remains the month for purifying the spirit, doing good and seeking forgiveness and blessings.