For most of the world's Muslims, Ramadan began at sunrise Friday, for the remainder it will officially begin Saturday. The holy month of fasting and prayer is considered Islam's most sacred religious observance. Ramadan is the focus of increased attention this year because it coincides with the U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan, a Muslim country.
The crescent of the new moon of the ninth month of the lunar calendar was spotted by Saudi Arabia's senior Muslim clerics Thursday night, meaning Ramadan officially started at dawn Friday for most of the world's 1.2 billion Muslims.
But in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country, the cloud cover was so heavy that Islamic scholars declared Saturday as the start of Ramadan based on their own lunar calculations.
From sunrise to sunset during Ramadan, Muslims are required to abstain from food, liquids, smoking, and sexual relations.
Many leaders throughout the Muslim world, particularly those in Arab countries, wanted the United States to halt its military operations in Afghanistan during Ramadan. But U.S. leaders, while acknowledging concern about Muslim sensitivities, say there can be no halt in the campaign. They also noted instances of Muslim leaders waging war during Ramadan.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair and French President Jacques Chirac recently visited Arab countries to assure their leaders that the war on terrorism is not a war against Islam.
President Bush sent a Ramadan greeting to the world's Muslims in which he emphasized U.S. humanitarian relief efforts in Afghanistan, including airdrops of food, medicine, and other supplies. In the president's words, "We are committed to working for the long-term reconstruction of that troubled land."
While Muslims around the world will be praying and fasting during daylight hours for the next 30 days, Ramadan, for many, is also a time of evening celebrations that sometimes last until dawn.