Fasting is practised by all religions. Christians believe in fasting during Lent, the 40 days leading up to Easter. Hindus have fasting for various occasions--Shivaratri, Kartika Purnami, the entire month of Kartik, Mondays in the month of Kartik, Navaratris leading up to Dussehra, among other. Jains follow the ritual of fasting as well.
For Muslims, the month of Ramadan is the holiest period in the year and the daily fast or roza, as it is known in the South Asian region of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, is practised across the Islamic world. The fast begins with sehri or the meal before daybreak, followed by the fajr prayers. It is broken every evening at sunset followed by the Maghrib prayers, before Muslims sit down for Iftaar. Customarily, Muslims break their fast with dates to follow the example of the prophet. Usually, in Muslim homes of Hyderabad, Iftaar is a time when everyone gathers, a time of togetherness. Guests often join family members.
During fasting, not a drop of water is to be consumed and one is not allowed to swallow one's own saliva--fasting in Islam is an exercise in self-discipline and restraint.
The holy month of Ramadan begins for Muslims with the sighting of the new moon of the ninth month of the year, as per the lunar calendar. Ramadan ends with Eid ul-Fitr. Muslims believe that the Holy Quran was revealed by Almighty Allah to Prophet Mohammad in the month of Ramadan. Hence, it is the month of penitence and prayers. Mosques across Hyderabad and Secunderabd and elsewhere, hold Taraveeh prayers at night where the faithful join in prayers as the Holy Quran is recited.
Back in the sixties, when I was a child and later through the seventies Sehri- callers were heard in the lanes of by-lanes of Hyderabad, largely before daybreak, calling out to the faithful and reminding them of Sehri, their early meal before the fast began. At dusk, sirens from mosques announce the end of the daily fast.
Haleem is a favourite delicacy in Hyderabad. Made from ground wheat and meat (usually lamb), embellished with nuts and rich in ghee, Haleem is considered a meal in itself. Across the city, one finds thousands of Haleem joints with their large furnaces or bhattis sprouting as soon as the new moon of Ramadan is sighted. The mud-baked furnaces are usually demolished once the Eid moon is sighted.
Ramadan is month of charity as well, with zakat or charity, being one of the essential five pillars of Islam. The holy month is a time to share what one is blessed with, with those who are less fortunate.