The Muslim holy month of Ramadan began at sundown on Wednesday, as the faithful prepared for a month of fasting from dawn to dark to draw them closer to God and to remind them of the suffering of those less fortunate.
Muslims will fast from sunrise to sunset for the next 30 days, not eating or drinking anything – not even a sip of water. Many people would faithfully attend prayers, read the Quran, and give to charity to get closer to God. Nightly feasts will be held for family and friends.
Many people will struggle to buy holiday treats this year due to escalating prices spurred in part by the Ukraine conflict. Iran, Egypt, and Lebanon are all dealing with economic crises that have devalued their currencies, making goods and services even more expensive.
The holy month will also be overshadowed by the suffering in Turkey and Syria, where an earthquake last month killed more than 52,000 people, as well as in conflict zones around the Muslim world, despite some positive signals of future peace.
Almost 1.8 billion Muslims, or roughly a quarter of the world’s population, are anticipated to observe Ramadan. Because Islam follows a lunar calendar, the month begins a week and a half earlier each year, cycling through the seasons, including the hot summer days.
The beginning of the month is determined by the sighting of the crescent moon by local religious leaders and astronomers, and it varies from country to country. This year, however, there was widespread agreement that it began on Wednesday evening, with today designated as the first day of fasting.
Worshippers flocked to mosques in Indonesia, home to the world’s largest Muslim population, for evening prayers after authorities declared that multiple Islamic astronomy observation teams had sighted the crescent moon in different places. Ramadan began Wednesday night, according to Muslim authorities in Saudi Arabia and several other Middle Eastern countries.
Muslims believe God began revealing the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad more than 1,400 years ago during Ramadan.
The fast is one of Islam’s five pillars and is mandatory for all Muslims, with exceptions for young children, the sick, and women who are pregnant breastfeeding, or menstruating. Travellers, including athletes competing in events away from home, are also exempt.
Individuals who observe the fast must refrain from eating, drinking, smoking, and engaging in sexual activity from sunrise to sunset. Throughout the holy month, they are also expected to refrain from cursing, fighting, gossiping, or road rage.
Laylat al-Qadr, or the Night of Destiny, occurs during the last ten nights of Ramadan when Muslims engage in intensive late-night worship. Muslims believe that God sent the Angel Gabriel to the prophet on this night to deliver the first verses of the Quran.