Muslim countries announce start of Ramadan in shadow of Gaza war

Saudi officials have spotted the crescent moon and declared the the holy fasting month of Ramadan for many of the world’s 1.8 billion Muslims.

The officials saw the moon Sunday night, making Monday the first day of the fasting month, Saudi state television reported.

The month consists of Muslims abstaining from food and water from sunrise to sunset as they reflect more deeply on their faith and hold family gatherings. This year’s observance, for many, is marred by Israel’s war on Gaza.

After officials in Sunni-majority Saudi Arabia spotted the moon, many Gulf Arab nations, as well as Iraq, Syria and Egypt, followed the announcement to confirm they as well would start fasting on Monday.

Some Asia-Pacific countries, however, like Australia, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, said they will begin Ramadan on Tuesday after failing to see the crescent moon.

Saudi King Salman specifically made reference to the war in Gaza in comments following the Ramadan announcement.

“As it pains us that the month of Ramadan falls this year, in light of the attacks our brothers in Palestine are suffering from, we stress the need for the international community to assume its responsibilities, to stop these brutal crimes, and provide safe humanitarian and relief corridors,” the king said.

Saudi Arabia had been urging its public to watch the skies from Sunday night in preparation for the sighting of the crescent moon.

In Iran, which views itself as the worldwide leader of Shia Muslims, authorities typically begin Ramadan a day after Sunnis start. The office of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei announced Ramadan will start on Tuesday there, according to the state-run IRNA news agency.

RAFAH, GAZA - MARCH 10: A group of volunteer Palestinian women in Gaza are seen preparing food to distribute to families who fled Israeli attacks and took refuge in Rafah city as part of preparations for the upcoming holy month of Ramadan, in Rafah
Palestinian women in Gaza are seen volunteering to prepare food to distribute to families who fled Israeli attacks and took refuge in Rafah city, March 10, 2024 [Jehad Alshrafi/Anadolu Agency]

During Ramadan, those observing have a pre-dawn meal, or “suhoor,” to sustain themselves during the daylight hours, and later break their fast with “iftar,” often a large meal.

During the month, Muslims try to avoid conflict and focus on acts of charity. However, Israel’s war on the Gaza Strip is looming large for many Muslims. There were hopes that a ceasefire agreement between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas could be reached before Ramadan began.

More than 31,000 people have been killed in the Israeli assault on Gaza, according to Palestinian health authorities in the besieged territory, and aid agencies have warned of a looming famine in parts of the Gaza Strip.

Hassuna Tabib Hassnan, a dentist displaced from Gaza City in the north of the besieged Gaza Strip, told the AFP news agency: “We had hoped that for Ramadan [we] would be in our homes, but unfortunately it is clear that we will live in displacement, pain and oppression.”

Meanwhile, Israeli restrictions on Muslims praying at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third-holiest site, may further also ramp up tensions in the region.

Palestinians walk past stalls set up in a street in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip on March 10
Palestinians walk past stalls set up in a street in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip on March 10, 2024, as Muslims prepare for the holy fasting month of Ramadan [Mohammed Abed/AFP]

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