by Dr. Venugopal Menon


Islam is the second-largest religion in India, with 14.2% of the country's population, with approximately 172.2 million people; India has the second-largest Muslim population, after Indonesia. The majority of Indian Muslims belong to the Sunni sect of Islam while the Shia form a sizeable minority. The religion arrived in India along with Arab coastal trade through the western shoreline, sometime around d 636 CE to 643 AD.

The first mosques were built in Gujarat, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu. Afterward, the Arabs conquered Sindh in the 7th century and parts of north India in the 12th century, as the Mughal Empire ruled most of South Asia. The peak of Islamic rule under Aurangzeb's reign and sharia happened after the establishment of the Fatwah Alamgiri, and later on by Tipu Sultan in Mysore and Nizams in Hyderabad. Alongside forced conversions, there has been integration between Hindus and Muslims and the Muslims played an ongoing, major role in the economics, politics, and culture of India.

The important Muslim festivals that are celebrated in India, include Ramzan (Ramadan), Muharram, Id-e-Milad, and Bakr-Id. The celebrations of the auspicious occasions are marked by special prayers offered in mosques, fasting, feasting, and exchange of wishes.


Ramzan (Ramadan)


Observed by Muslims the world over, Ramzan falls on the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, (April) with the focus on fasting along with prayer and reflection. The fasting commemorates the month when the teachings of the Holy Quran were first revealed to Prophet Muhammed on Laylat-al-Qadr (the night when the Holy Quran first came from heaven to earth). Sawm (fasting), one of Islam’s five pillars, is practiced during the month from sunrise to sunset. Ramadan is observed for 29-30 days from the first sighting of the crescent moon to the other.

Fasting is obligatory for adult Muslims who are not ill or otherwise compromised. The predawn meal is Suhur and the nightly feast is Iftar. It is not just fasting, but refraining from alcohol, tobacco, sexual relations, and other sinful activities are to be refrained from along with being engaged in charitable endeavors. The spiritual rewards of fasting during Ramadan are multiple; ‘When Ramadan arrives, the gates of Paradise open and the gates of hell are locked up and devils are put in chains. In some Muslim countries, eating during daylight hours in public places is considered a crime. In some communist countries, fasting is restricted or even banned.

Charitable giving is part of Ramadan. Zakat, translated as ‘the poor-rate’, is the fixed percentage of income a believer is supposed to give to the poor, an obligatory practice and a pillar of Islam. Muslims believe that good deeds are rewarded more during Ramadan than any other time.

In some Islamic cultures, lights are strung up in public squares and streets, a tradition believed to have originated during the Fatimid Caliphate, where the rule was acclaimed by people holding lanterns. Common greetings during Ramadan include ‘Ramadan Mubarak’ and ‘Ramadan Kareem’ meaning has a blessed or generous Ramadan.




Muharram marks the start of the Islamic New Year and is one of the most important months for Muslims, second only to Ramadan. It begins after the sighting of the first crescent of the new moon on the final day of the Islamic calendar, which usually falls around the August/ September months but migrates through the solar Georgian calendar.

Muharram is a month of remembrance. Ashura refers to the tenth of Muharram in Arabic, and is the time of ‘mourning’. The historical significance of Muharram is that it is in remembrance of the days when the grandson of Muhammad, Husayn ibn Ali, his family, and 72 followers was deprived of water and was killed by the army of Yazid I at the battle of Karbala. The surviving members were imprisoned in Damascus.

Muharram is observed by Sunni Muslims by reading scriptures related to the holy month, fasting on the 9th and 10th days, showing gratitude to Allah, remembering the battle of Karbala, and participating in certain Shia-led events to bring the sects together. The Shiites observe it by refraining from public display of happiness, even eating meat, wearing new clothes, or getting married; other observations are, dressing in black, attending public lectures, reciting spiritual poems, and walking in processions showing grief. Charitable activities are common to all.



Also known as Eid Milad-Un-Nabi is a festival celebrated to commemorate the birth of Prophet Muhammad, who is believed to be the messenger of God in Islam. Its origin dates back to the 8th century when Muhammad’s house was transformed into a house of prayer by Al-Khayzuran. Devotees light lamps, decorate their homes, observe night-long prayer meetings, feast and meet family members and engage in charitable giving.



Id-ul-Zuha, Eid-al-Ad, ha, or Bakr-Id is an Islamic festival celebrated worldwide. It honors the willingness of Ibrahim to sacrifice his son Ismael as an act of obedience to the command of God. As per Genesis 22.2, the Jewish and Christians believe that Abraham took his son Isaac to sacrifice. It is believed that before Isaac was sacrificed, Allah provided a lamb in sacrifice. The practice is controversial as it invokes suffering of life. The custom is for the family to consume only one-third of the meat and distribute the rest to the poor. The event lasts four days, and in the Islamic lunar calendar, it shifts every year.

Id in Arabic is a festival or celebration. Devotees offer prayers in congregations at the mosque, after sunrise. They wear their finest clothes on the day, and after the conclusion of the prayers and sermon, Muslims embrace each other and exchange greetings, give gifts and invite one another.