Mus­lim fast­ing month of Ra­madan to start Thurs­day

South Florida Times - - PRAYERFUL LIVING - By As­so­ci­ated Press

AYA BATRAWY and AB­DUL­LAH AL-SHIHRI

RIYADH, Saudi Ara­bia - Mil­lions of Mus­lims around the world will be­gin the fast­ing month of Ra­madan on Thurs­day. Saudi Ara­bia and other Mus­lim na­tions, like Indonesia, de­clared Ra­madan would not be­gin Wed­nes­day based on a moon­sight­ing method­ol­ogy. That means the month of dawn-to-dusk fast­ing will most likely be­gin Thurs­day.

The Ra­madan fast, in which food and even wa­ter is pro­hib­ited, falls on es­pe­cially long sum­mer days this year for Mus­lims in the North­ern Hemi­sphere. For Mus­lims who live in re­gions where Is­lam is not the dominant re­li­gion, chal­leng­ing fasts are be­lieved to come with greater bless­ings.

Fast­ing is in­tended to bring the faith­ful closer to God and re­mind them of those less for­tu­nate. It is also a chance to kick ad­dic­tions like caf­feine and cig­a­rettes.

Dur­ing the day, Mus­lims must ab­stain from eat­ing, drink­ing, sex, gos­sip and curs­ing, and are en­cour­aged to fo­cus on med­i­ta­tive acts like prayer, read­ing the Qu­ran and char­ity. There are ex­cep­tions to fast­ing for chil­dren, the elderly, the sick, women who are pregnant, nurs­ing or men­stru­at­ing, and peo­ple trav­el­ling.

Mus­lims fol­low a lu­nar cal­en­dar, and a moon-sight­ing method­ol­ogy can lead to dif­fer­ent coun­tries declar­ing the start of Ra­madan a day or two apart. Reli­gious au­thor­i­ties in Egypt and Syria both de­clared the fast would be­gin Thurs­day.

Tra­di­tion­ally, coun­tries an­nounce if their moon-sight­ing coun­cil spots the Ra­madan cres­cent the evening be­fore fast­ing be­gins. The king­dom's an­nounce­ment was made on Saudi state TV and by other state-run me­dia.

Fast­ing dur­ing Ra­madan is one of the five oblig­a­tory pil­lars of Is­lam, along with the Mus­lim dec­la­ra­tion of f aith, daily prayer, an­nual char­ity and per­form­ing the hajj pil­grim­age in Mecca. Many do­nate their an­nual char­ity, known as ``za­kat,'' dur­ing Ra­madan.

In many Mid­dle East­ern coun­tries, the wealthy help dis­trib­ute free meals for the poor, with mosques and vol­un­teers pass­ing out juice and food to pedes­tri­ans and any­one, Mus­lim or non-Mus­lim, in need of the aid or sim­ply break­ing their fast.

Mus­lims typ­i­cally break their fast as the Prophet Muham­mad did some 1,400 years ago, by eat­ing sweet dates and drink­ing wa­ter, fol­lowed by a sun­set prayer.

Ra­madan is also a time of feast­ing with fam­ily and friends. In the Mid­dle East, wor­ship­pers pack mosques for nightly prayers be­fore head­ing home to watch Ra­madan tele­vi­sion spe­cials.

It's com­mon prac­tice across many Mus­lim-ma­jor­ity na­tions for liquor stores and ho­tels to curb the sale of al­co­hol dur­ing Ra­madan. Of­ten, restau­rants shut­ter their doors dur­ing the day.

In the United Arab Emi­rates, where for­eign­ers out­num­ber lo­cals, restau­rants put up cur­tains out of re­spect to those who are fast­ing, and ex­pats are en­cour­aged not to eat in pub­lic view of those fast­ing.

Mus­lims cel­e­brate the end of Ra­madan with a three-day hol­i­day called Eid al-Fitr.

Batrawy re­ported from Dubai, United Arab Emi­rates. As­so­ci­ated Press writ­ers Samy Magdy in Cairo and Bassem Mroue in Beirut con­trib­uted. Mus­lims worship dur­ing Ra­madan

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