Ramadan moon sighted in Saudi Arabia, holy month amid coronavirus begins on Friday

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The Ramadan crescent moon has been sighted in Saudi Arabia, meaning the holy month will officially begin on Friday, according to an official announcement from the Kingdom’s Supreme Court.

The sighting of the moon was confirmed by a team of astronomy observers in Saudi Arabia’s Hautat Sudair, a small village located at an intersection between Riyadh, Sudair, and Qassim, 140 km north of the capital Riyadh.

Muslims follow a lunar calendar consisting of 12 months in a year of 354 or 355 days. Sighting a crescent moon heralds the start of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar.

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman released a statement on the occasion of Ramadan, saying he was saddened that Muslims are not able to pray inside mosques due to the restrictions imposed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I am pained that the holy month arrives amid circumstances that make us unable to perform group prayers and Taraweeh at mosques due to precautionary measures to protect the peoples’ lives and health in combating the coronavirus pandemic,” King Salman said in a statement carried by the Saudi Press Agency.

More than 1.5 billion Muslims around the world will mark the month, during which believers abstain from eating, drinking, smoking, and having marital relations from dawn until sunset. They also try to avoid evil thoughts and deeds.

Read more: Ramadan under lockdown - How coronavirus is affecting Muslims country-by-country guide

Fasting during the month of Ramadan is also one of the five pillars of Islam. It is followed by the Eid al-Fitr holiday.

As Muslims follow a lunar calendar, Eid al-Fitr starts when the new moon is spotted in the sky at the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

Ramadan is sacred to Muslims because tradition says the Quran was revealed to their Prophet Mohammed during that month. Fasting during the month of Ramadan is also one of the five pillars of Islam.

This year’s Ramadan is markedly different as many Muslims will not be able to experience the communal traditions of Ramadan due to the restrictions on movement and social gathering imposed in Islamic and Muslim-majority countries across the world following the coronavirus pandemic.

While Muslims are still expected to fast between sunrise and sunset, religious authorities in key Islamic countries including Saudi Arabia and the UAE have ordered that prayers be done at home to prevent the virus from spreading via communal gatherings in mosques.

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