Ramadan kicks off in much of Asia, a day after most of the Middle East

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A Muslim woman walks in front of Putra Mosque during sunset ahead of the holy fasting month of Ramadan in Putrajaya, Malaysia, on March 11. (AP)

JAKARTA, Indonesia, March 12, (AP): The Muslim holy month of Ramadan, when the faithful fast from dawn to dusk, began at sunrise Tuesday in much of Asia, a day after many Muslims in the Middle East began their fasts.
In the Muslim lunar calendar, months begin only when the new moon is sighted, which can lead to variations of a day or two.
Middle Eastern nations including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates declared the month would begin early Monday, but in the Asia-Pacific countries including Australia, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore began Ramadan on Tuesday after failing to see the crescent moon the previous night. India, Pakistan and Bangladesh also began Ramadan on Tuesday, as did Iran and Jordan.
During Ramadan, Muslims refrain from eating, drinking, smoking from sunrise until sunset. Even a tiny sip of water or a puff of smoke is enough to invalidate the fast. At night, family and friends gather and feast in a festive atmosphere.
The fasting is aimed at bringing the faithful closer to God and reminding them of the suffering of the poor. Muslims are expected to strictly observe daily prayers and engage in heightened religious contemplation. They are also urged to refrain from gossip, fighting or cursing during the holy month.
In Indonesia, where 90% of the population of 277 million practice Islam, celebrations ranged from colorful torchlight parades, to cleaning family graves, to preparing food for pre-dawn breakfasts and elaborate post-sundown meals known as “iftars.” Each region in the archipelago nation has its own way to mark the start of Ramadan.
The government set the start of the holiday for Tuesday after teams from more than 100 regions failed to sight the new moon Sunday. Religious Affairs Minister Yaqut Cholil Qoumas announced the timing late Sunday evening.
Mosques flooded with devotees offering the evening prayers known as “tarawih” on Monday night. In Jakarta’s Istiqlal Grand Mosque, the largest in Southeast Asia, tens of thousands of worshippers crammed together shoulder-to-shoulder.
It’s also an exciting time for business. Hotels, restaurants and cafes all prepare special Ramadan promotions, shoppers to flock shopping centers for new clothes and home decorations for the holiday of Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan.

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