Millions of Muslims prepare for start of Ramadhan

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – Last minute preparations were underway as Muslims around the world stocked up on groceries and dates yesterday for evening meals to break dawn-to-dusk fasting during the month of Ramadhan.

Saudi Arabia and other Muslim-majority nations, like Egypt and Indonesia, declared Ramadhan would begin today based on a moon-sighting methodology. Muslims follow a lunar calendar, and a moon-sighting methodology can lead to different countries declaring the start of Ramadhan a day or two apart.

For those fasting in North America and Europe, Ramadhan falls on especially long days this year, with Muslims in some cities not breaking their fast until after 8pm.

The Ramadhan fast, in which food and even a sip of water is prohibited, is intended to bring the faithful closer to Allah the Almighty and remind them of those less fortunate. It is also a chance to kick addictions like caffeine.

Muslims are encouraged to spend time in contemplation, prayer, reading Al-Quran and charity during the day.

Just as the sun begins to set, Muslims traditionally break their fast as Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) did some 1,400 years ago, by eating sweet dates and drinking water, followed by a sunset prayer.

At night, many fill mosques for evening prayers, known as tarawikh.

Before dawn to prepare for the next day of fasting, families often wake in the night for a light meal known as sahur eating fruits and vegetables, or a small dish with beans, lentils, bread or rice.

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.

A customer purchases prayer beads ahead of the holy fasting month of Ramadhan in Kabul, Afghanistan yesterday. – AP