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Saudi Arabia announces start of Ramadan after sighting moon

April 23, 2020 GMT
A man rides a scooter through an empty square in front of closed the Central Mosque "Heart of Chechnya" in Grozny, Russia, Thursday, April 23, 2020. Ramadan begins with the new moon later this week as Muslims all around the world are trying to work out how to maintain the many cherished rituals of Islam's holiest month amid the virus pandemic. (AP Photo/Musa Sadulayev)
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A man rides a scooter through an empty square in front of closed the Central Mosque "Heart of Chechnya" in Grozny, Russia, Thursday, April 23, 2020. Ramadan begins with the new moon later this week as Muslims all around the world are trying to work out how to maintain the many cherished rituals of Islam's holiest month amid the virus pandemic. (AP Photo/Musa Sadulayev)
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A man rides a scooter through an empty square in front of closed the Central Mosque "Heart of Chechnya" in Grozny, Russia, Thursday, April 23, 2020. Ramadan begins with the new moon later this week as Muslims all around the world are trying to work out how to maintain the many cherished rituals of Islam's holiest month amid the virus pandemic. (AP Photo/Musa Sadulayev)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Saudi Arabia and some other Muslim-majority nations, including Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan, declared that the holy month of Ramadan — when the faithful observe a dawn-to-dusk fast — would begin on Friday, based on a moon-sighting methodology.

This year, the coronavirus pandemic has cut off the world’s 1.8 billion Muslims from their cherished Ramadan rituals as health officials battle to ward off new infections during Islam’s holiest month, when large gatherings and family celebrations are a tradition.

The Saudi statement came on the kingdom’s state-run Saudi Press Agency while the Emiratis made the announcement through their state-run WAM news agency.

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Oman said the fasting month will begin on Saturday as the sultanate’s religious authority did not sight the crescent moon on Thursday evening. In Iran, Ramadan is expected to begin on Saturday as well.

In Lebanon, the Supreme Shiite Council announced that moon sighting was not possible on Thursday, indicating that Ramadan would begin for the community on Saturday. The Sunnis in Lebanon are due to begin their fasting on Friday, alongside a smaller group of Shiites who rely on astronomical calculations to determine the beginning of the holy month.

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.

The Ramadan fast, in which food and water are prohibited during daylight hours, is intended to bring the faithful closer to God and remind them of those less fortunate. While fasting, Muslims must also abstain from sex, gossip and cursing. The faithful are encouraged to spend time in contemplation, prayer, reading the Quran and charity during the day.