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Muslims observe first day of Ramadan

More than 1.5 billion Muslims around the world will mark the Islamic holy fasting month

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The Islamic holy fasting month of Ramadan has begun on Thursday for Muslims around the world.

Because Muslims follow a lunar calendar, different moon-sighting methodology can lead to different countries declaring the start of Ramadan a day or two apart. This year, religious authorities in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iran, Indonesia and most other parts of the world announced based on their sightings of the moon that daily fasting would begin Thursday.

Palestinian people take part in a prayer called Tarawih, on the eve of the holy fasting month of Ramadan in Gaza City, on June 17, 2015. AP
Palestinian people take part in a prayer called Tarawih, on the eve of the holy fasting month of Ramadan in Gaza City, on June 17, 2015. AP

However, in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh - all three countries with large Muslim populations - religious authorities announced that fasting would begin on Friday.

During the month of Ramadan, Muslims refrain from eating, drinking, smoking, or having sex from sunrise to sunset during the month. They also try to avoid evil thoughts and deeds.

Muslims attend Ramadan prayer
Muslims attend Ramadan prayer

Fasting is compulsory for every able-bodied Muslim who is not elderly, sick, pregnant or travelling.

More than 1.5 billion Muslims around the world will mark the month. Ramadan is sacred to Muslims because tradition says the Quran was revealed to the Prophet Mohammed during that month.

It is followed by the Eid al-Fitr festival.

Fasters are encouraged to maintain two meals during Ramadan: Sohour and Iftar. While Iftar, the breaking-fast meal at sunset, is considered very important, Sohour is even more so.

It is consumed before dawn, and seen as vital to keeping the body strong throughout the fasting hours.

Egypt Ramadan reuters
Egypt Ramadan reuters

In addition to perceived health benefits, the fast is meant to humble oneself, provide spirituality, exercise self-discipline and avoid bad behavior.

It serves as a reminder of the suffering of the needy, and a chance for Muslims to become more pious.

Nightly prayers, or Taraweeh, are unique to Ramadan, performed after the five daily prayers. Reciting the Quran is another common ritual during Ramadan, when Muslims believe God revealed His book to Prophet Muhammad.

Muslim workers break their fast on the first day of Ramadan at a free table at the Imam Turki bin Abdullah mosque in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Saturday, Aug. 22, 2009. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
Muslim workers break their fast on the first day of Ramadan at a free table at the Imam Turki bin Abdullah mosque in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Saturday, Aug. 22, 2009. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

Umrah, the smaller pilgrimage to Islam’s holiest city Makkah, is encouraged during Ramadan.

To find out more about Ramadan this year, take a look at our special coverage:

How long is the world fasting this Ramadan? A country rundown

China restricts Ramadan fasting in far western region

Ramadan recipes: Enjoy hot, crunchy traditional Indian pakoras

What do religious authorities look for on night before Ramadan?

Ready for Ramadan? 10 ways to prepare your body for fasting