LONDON — Across the world, Muslims scoured the night skies in search of the new crescent moon, which in accordance with the lunar calendar marked the start of the fasting month of Ramadan for many on Thursday.
Pregnant, breastfeeding or menstruating women are exempt from fasting, as are the sick, elderly or those traveling. Children are also not expected to fast.
In the Northern Hemisphere, the fasting day could stretch as long as 17 hours for Muslims in cities such as Glasgow, Scotland and Stockholm. Muslims in the Southern Hemisphere will have an easier fast, lasting only 13 hours in places like Nairobi, Singapore and Brazil.
Ramadan is the holiest month for Muslims, who believe that the words of God in the Quran were first revealed in this month in the year 610 to the illiterate desert dweller Muhammad, who would go on to become the highly revered final Abrahamic prophet sent to mankind after Moses and Jesus in Islamic teachings.
The month is also a time when Muslims try to expend more effort on religious pursuits, taking part in lengthy congregational night prayers in bustling mosques, completing the Quran, giving more to charity, spending time disconnecting in self-reflection and enjoying “break-fast” meals with family and friends.
Muslims, following the example of the prophet Muhammad, generally break their fast with a date and a glass of water or milk — followed by a larger meal known as “iftar.”
Many Muslims will continue with their daily routines, going to school and work. Some Muslim sports stars also continue to train and play during Ramadan, with some exceptions made to allow them to break their fast in the middle of games.
World leaders, including President Biden, have wished Muslims a happy Ramadan or “Ramadan Kareem.”
“Jill and I extend our best wishes to Muslim communities across the country and around the world,” Biden said in a statement. “Muslim Americans continue to strengthen our nation’s diverse tapestry generation after generation.”
Biden also referenced the devastating earthquake that killed more than 50,000 people across Syria and Turkey in February, as well as extreme floods that hit Pakistan last year, leaving thousands homeless. He also mentioned Muslims facing “oppression — including Uyghurs in the People’s Republic of China, Rohingya in Burma.”
In war-torn Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelensky extended Ramadan wishes to the country’s Muslim population. “May the power of prayer in this holy month of Ramadan help us cleanse Ukraine of Russian godless evil, of those who truly believe in nothing. … Let the next Ramadan begin in peace,” he said in a video posted online.
Earlier this week, Israeli and Palestinian officials pledged to lower tensions during the holy month after recent clashes. Ramadan this year coincides with the Jewish festival of Passover, and large numbers of Jewish and Muslim worshipers are expected to visit holy sites in Jerusalem’s Old City, Reuters reported.
Cities across the world mark the month in a variety of ways.
In London, the capital’s busy Piccadilly Circus shopping district will be lit up for the first time with “Ramadan lights,” switched on by Mayor Sadiq Khan this week.
In Dubai, fireworks will be set off each weekend, and shopping malls will offer goods at heavy discounts. In the United States, home to more than 3 million Muslims, more mainstream retailers are selling Ramadan children’s books, foods and merchandise in a bid to capitalize on the season.
Other Muslim nations, such as Sudan and Yemen, however, have warned that the rising cost of food and other necessities may mean that more families struggle during Ramadan this year, with greater need for food parcels and charity aid.
Ramadan culminates with the festival of Eid al-Fitr, when Muslims dress up, adorn their hands with henna, decorate their houses and celebrate with communal prayers. This year, following the lunar calendar, Eid is expected to fall on either April 20 or 21.