Dubai: The Muslim holy month of Ramadan began at sundown on Wednesday, as the faithful prepared for a month of dawn-to-dusk fasting intended to bring them closer to God and to remind them of the suffering of those less fortunate.
For the next 30 days, Muslims will refrain from eating or drinking anything — even the tiniest sip of water — from sunrise to sunset. Many will strictly observe prayers, read the Quran and donate to charity as they seek to draw closer to God. Family and friends will gather for joyful nightly feasts.
More than 1.8 billion Muslims, who account for around a quarter of the world’s population, are expected to observe Ramadan. Islam follows a lunar calendar, so the month begins a week and a half earlier each year, cycling through the seasons, including the long days of hot summers.
The start of the month depends on the sighting of the crescent moon by local religious authorities and astronomers, and can sometimes vary from country to country. But this year there was broad agreement that it began Wednesday evening, with Thursday declared as the first day of fasting.
However, the holy month will also be shadowed by the suffering in Turkey and Syria, where an earthquake last month killed more than 52,000 people, and in conflict zones across the Muslim world, though there have been some encouraging signs of possible reconciliation.
“We used to look forward to Ramadan as the most beautiful month of every year,” said 19-year-old Rama Jamal, recalling how her family would decorate the house and sit together reading the Quran. Now she lives alone in the war-ravaged northern Idlib province of Syria. After surviving more than a decade of war, her parents and brother were killed in the earthquake.
“Now I’m by myself, and there’s no mood of Ramadan, there’s no joy,” Jamal said. “I’m missing my family all the time, every hour.”
In the impoverished Gaza Strip, which has been under an Israeli blockade since the militant group Hamas seized power there in 2007, residents struggling to cope with higher prices also fear another war amid months of soaring Israeli-Palestinian violence.
“The prices of many staples have increased crazily,” said Mohammed Forra, a grocery store owner in Gaza City. He said the price of cooking spices has doubled since last year.