Except for Qatar Independence Day on September 3, all of the country's holidays and festivities have religious significance. The dates of Muslim festivals vary from year to year because they are based on the lunar calendar. A lunar month is the period between two new moons. There are only 354 days in the lunar calendar, unlike the solar calendar, which has 365 days. As a result, from year to year, the holy days and even the months shift from one season to another. The Islamic year bears no relation to the seasons.

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. During Ramadan, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. Eating, drinking and smoking are forbidden during the daylight hours. Even non-Muslim foreigners must abide by this prohibition in public places. Ramadan is a time for reflection on spiritual matters. It shows devotion to Allah and Mohammed, builds self-discipline and encourages compassion for those who are less fortunate. Every evening during Ramadan, families come together for the evening meal (iftar). Nighttime during Ramadan tends to be busy, as Qataris gather for business and leisure activities that last until the early hours of morning.

Eid al-Fitr is the day of celebration that marks the end of Ramadan. Muslims visit family members, enjoy special meals together and wear new clothes. Children receive gifts of money from their relatives. Amusement rides for children are set up in the streets, and people watch fireworks at night. Officially, the celebration lasts for three days, but if it falls in the middle of the week, shops and schools may stay closed for the entire week.

Aid al-Adha or the Feast of Sacrifice takes place during the traditional time of pilgrimage to Mecca. It is celebrated by pilgrims in Mecca and by those who remain at home. Eid al-Adha commemorates Abraham's willingness to obey God by sacrificing his son. Each family kills a sheep and prepares a feast using the meat. The family eats about a third of the food, gives a third to relatives and friends, and donates the final third to the poor. All businesses in Qatar close for this celebration, which usually lasts three days.

   Did you know?
Muharram marks the beginning of the first month in the Islamic calendar. It is the Muslim New Year. It commemorates the day in 622 on which Mohammed and his followers left Mecca for Medina, an event considered the beginning of Islamic history.