The new moon is here, and across the sprawling archipelago of Indonesia, Islam's most holy month, Ramadan, is officially about to begin. Members of the world's largest Muslim population will begin the annual ritual of abstinence from dawn until dusk - and some will try to impose Islamic morality on non-Muslims. VOA's Nancy-Amelia Collins reports from Jakarta.

Indonesian officials, Muslim clerics, and astronomers fanned out across this nation of 235 million people this week looking for the new moon, which signals the start of the Islamic holy fasting month of Ramadan.

All agreed the new moon would appear by Wednesday, and it was declared that Ramadan would begin in Indonesia - a secular, democratic nation with the world's largest number of Muslims - on Thursday.

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, and traditionally the month in which the Muslim holy book, the Koran, was revealed to the Prophet Mohammad.

The Koran says Muslims must fast and abstain from sex between dawn and sunset during this month.

Pak Nardo is a Muslim who prays five times a day as the Koran dictates. He works as a security guard in Jakarta, and says he always observes Ramadan because it is an obligation for all Muslims.

He says the biggest challenge during the fasting month is the hunger and the ability to overcome it. But he thinks Ramadan is good because, it teaches people to be disciplined and to practice patience.

A small minority of Indonesians belong to other faiths besides Islam. Gideon is a Christian and an office worker in Jakarta, and he says the hardest part of Ramadan for him is the lack of available food to buy during lunch hour.

"[It is] a little bit hard because, you know, like this food - they do not do anything in the afternoon so - if you work in the office, then we have to find it," said Gideon.

Several thousand militant Muslims demonstrated in Jakarta during the weekend, urging the government to crack down on "immorality" during Ramadan. Bars, nightclubs, and other entertainment places traditionally close, or at least limit their hours of operation during the month.

But during the past several years, militant Islamic groups have attacked those places of entertainment that choose to stay open during Ramadan.

Traditionally, Indonesians practice a tolerant and open form of the Islamic faith, but in recent years a small but vocal group of hard-liners has pushed for the implementation of Sharia, Islamic law.