Muslims around the world will mark the start of Ramadan tomorrow, a month of intense prayer, dawn-to-dusk fasting and nightly feasts.
Muslims follow a lunar calendar and a moon-sighting methodology that can lead to different countries declaring the start of Ramadan a day or two apart.
However, this year religious authorities in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iran, Indonesia and most other parts of the world announced based on their sightings of the moon that daily fasting would begin tomorrow.
Authorities in Pakistan have yet to announce the sighting of the moon.
During Ramadan, observant Muslims abstain from eating and drinking from sunrise to sunset for the entire month. A single sip of water or a puff of a cigarette is considered enough to invalidate the fast.
The fast is intended to bring the faithful closer to God and to remind them of the suffering of those less fortunate.
Muslims often give to charities during the month, and mosques and aid organisations organise free meals for the public every night.
Fasting also is seen as a way to physically and spiritually detoxify through exercising self-restraint. Sexual intercourse between spouses also is off-limits during the day, while Muslims also are encouraged to be mindful of their behaviour and to avoid gossipping, cursing and quarrelling.
This year, Ramadan falls during the summer, which means
long and hot days of fasting. Mainstream scholars advise Muslims in northern European countries with 16 hours or more of daylight to follow the cycle of fasting of the nearest Muslim majority nation to them to avoid impossibly long hours without food or water.
Chairwoman Pia Jardi at the Finnish Muslim Union in Helsinki said Muslims there will be fasting for 21 hours and have just three hours or even less for eating, drinking and prayer before the sun rises again.
“The good thing is that you’ll eat with moderation and that you’ll stick very much into the true, simple spirit of Ramadan,” Jardi said. “Long fasting time means you rarely want to eat heavily.”