Muslims spot Ramadan crescent moon in Saudi Arabia, month of fasting starts Monday for many

AP , Sunday 10 Mar 2024

Officials saw the crescent moon Sunday night in Saudi Arabia, home to the holiest sites in Islam, marking the start of the holy fasting month of Ramadan for many of the world's 1.8 billion Muslims.

Muslim holy month of Ramadan
A woman shops for decorations for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan at a shop in Beirut, Lebanon. AP


The sacred month, which sees those observing abstain from food and water from sunrise to sunset, marks a period of religious reflection, family get-togethers, and giving across the Muslim world. Seeing the moon Sunday night means Monday is the first day of the fast.

Saudi state television reported authorities there saw the crescent moon. Soon after, multiple Gulf Arab nations, as well as Iraq and Syria, followed the announcement to confirm they as well would start fasting on Monday.

Leaders also shared messages of congratulations the month had begun.

However, there are some Asia-Pacific countries like Australia, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore, that will begin Ramadan on Tuesday after failing to see the crescent moon.

Oman, on the easternmost edge of the Arabian Peninsula, similarly announced Ramadan would begin Tuesday. Jordan will also begin Ramadan on Tuesday.

This year's Ramadan comes as the Middle East remains inflamed by the ongoing Israeli war in the Gaza Strip. That's raised fears that the conflict may spark unrest far beyond the current borders of the war.

Saudi King Salman specifically pointed to the Gaza war in remarks released to the public after the Ramadan announcement.

“As it pains us that the month of Ramadan falls this year, in light of the attacks our brothers in Palestine are suffering from, we stress the need for the international community to assume its responsibilities, to stop these brutal crimes, and provide safe humanitarian and relief corridors,” the king said.

Meanwhile, inflation and high prices of food around the world since the pandemic began continue to pinch.

In Saudi Arabia, the kingdom had been urging the public to watch the skies from Sunday night in preparation for the sighting of the crescent moon.

Ramadan works on a lunar calendar and moon-sighting methodologies often vary between countries, meaning some nations declare the start of the month earlier or later.

However, many Sunni-dominated nations in the Middle East follow the lead of Saudi Arabia, home to Mecca and its cube-shaped Kaaba that Muslims pray toward five times a day.

In Iran authorities typically begin Ramadan a day after Sunnis start.

Already, the office of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei announced Ramadan will start on Tuesday, according to the state-run IRNA news agency.

“This year, Ramadan will coincide with Nowruz," said Tehran resident Robabeh Khodkameh, referring to the Persian New Year that begins March 20.

"Since the old days, we have a custom of thoroughly cleaning homes for Nowruz, and making everything look new. This year, since it’s also Ramadan, we’ll clean our hearts too and use it as a fresh start for things.”

During Ramadan, those observing typically break their fast with a date and water, following the tradition set by the Prophet Mohammad. Then they'll enjoy an “iftar,” or a large meal. They'll have a pre-dawn meal, or “suhoor,” to sustain themselves during the daylight hours.

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar; the month cycles through the seasons and the months in the Gregorian calendar.

Muslims try to avoid conflict and focus on acts of charity during the holy month. However, the war in the Gaza Strip is looming large over this year's Ramadan for many Muslims.

Since, Oct. 7, Israel launched a grinding war targeting the Gaza Strip that so far has seen more than 30,000 Palestinians killed, 70% of them women and children, and an intense siege of the seaside enclave cutting off electricity, food, and water.

Scenes of Palestinians praying before bombed-out mosques and chasing after food airdropped by foreign nations continue to anger those across the Middle East and the wider world.

The US has been pressuring Israel, which relies on American military hardware and support, to allow more food in as Ramadan begins. It also plans a sea corridor with other partners.

The war, as well as Israeli restrictions on Muslims praying at Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third-holiest site, may further inflame anger. 

The Palestinian territories will begin Ramadan on Monday as well.

War also continues to rage across Sudan despite efforts to try and reach a Ramadan cease-fire.

* This story was edited by Ahram Online.

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