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

Mar 10, 2024, 8:22 AM | Updated: Mar 11, 2024, 3:00 pm

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — 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.

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 that authorities there saw the crescent moon. Soon after, multiple Gulf Arab nations, as well as Egypt, Sudan, Syria and Yemen followed the announcement to confirm they as well would start fasting on Monday. North American Muslims also will begin their fast Monday.

Leaders 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 Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip. That’s raised fears the conflict may spark unrest far beyond the current borders of the war.

Saudi King Salman specifically pointed to the Israel-Hamas 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.

U.S. President Joe Biden also recognized the beginning of the holy month, saying that “Jill and I extend our best wishes and prayers to Muslims across our country and around the world,” but he also turned to the conflict in Gaza.

“As Muslims gather around the world over the coming days and weeks to break their fast, the suffering of the Palestinian people will be front of mind for many. It is front of mind for me,” Biden 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, which views itself as the worldwide leader of Islam’s minority Shiites, 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.”

Only Sunnis in Iraq and Lebanon will begin fasting Monday, while Shiites will begin Tuesday.

During Ramadan, those observing typically break their fast with a date and water, following the tradition set by the Prophet Muhammad. 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.

The war began Oct. 7 with Hamas’ attack on Israel that killed around 1,200 people and saw 250 others taken hostage. Israel responded with a grinding war targeting the Gaza Strip that so far has seen more than 30,000 Palestinians reported killed 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 U.S. 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 militant anger. The site is also known as the Temple Mount, which Jews consider their most sacred site. The Palestinian territories will begin Ramadan on Monday as well.

The Islamic State group, which once held a self-described caliphate across territory in Iraq and Syria, has launched attacks around Ramadan as well. Though now splintered, the group has tried to capitalize on the Israel-Hamas war to raise its profile.

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

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Associated Press religion coverage receives support through the AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

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