Muslims worldwide gear up for holy month of Ramadan, which starts Monday for many


Officials saw the crescent moon on 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 on 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 Iraq and Syria, followed the announcement to confirm that they as well would start fasting on Monday. Leaders also shared messages of congratulations that the month had begun.

However, there are some Asia-Pacific countries, such as 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 on Tuesday, along with Jordan.

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

Worshipper pray in rows as a mosque is seen in the background.
Muslim worshippers take part in evening prayers at the Al-Aqsa compound in Jerusalem’s Old City on Sunday. (Ammar Awad/Reuters)

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.

Meanwhile, inflation and the high price of food around the world since the COVID-19 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.

A child uses binoculars while looking up at the sky.
A Muslim man standing on the roof of a mosque in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Sunday uses binoculars to look for the position of the moon to mark the first day of Ramadan. (Willy Kurniawan/Reuters)

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 Shia, 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.”

People survey  decorative lanterns piled up on display at a stall.
People look at traditional decorative Ramadan lanterns displayed for sale at stalls in Cairo on Sunday. (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters)

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.

War in Gaza looms large

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 on Oct. 7 after an attack led by Hamas militants on Israel killed about 1,200 people and saw 250 others taken hostage, according to Israeli tallies. Israel responded with a grinding war targeting the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip that so far has seen more than 30,000 Palestinians killed and an intense siege of the seaside enclave cutting off electricity, food and water.

A child waves a sparkler firework amid the rubble of a destoryed building.
A Palestinian child displaced by the Israel-Hamas war plays with a sparkler amid the rubble in Rafah, southern Gaza, on Sunday. (Said Khatib/AFP/Getty Images)

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.

ISIS, a group of militants fighting to establish an Islamist state that once held a self-described caliphate across territory in Iraq and Syria, has launched attacks around Ramadan as well. Although 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 to reach a Ramadan ceasefire.

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