Muslims spot Ramadan crescent moon in Saudi Arabia, meaning month of fasting starts Monday for many


DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Officials saw the crescent moon 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 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 Egypt, Sudan, Syria and Yemen followed the announcement to confirm they too would start fasting on Monday. North American Muslims also will begin their fast Monday.

However, there are some Asia-Pacific countries like 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 Tuesday. Jordan will also begin Ramadan on Tuesday.

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

Meanwhile, inflation and high prices of food around the world since the 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.

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 Shiites, 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.”

Only Sunnis in Iraq and Lebanon will begin fasting Monday, while Shiites will begin Tuesday.

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.