CAIRO: Nearly a billion and a half Muslims worldwide this week begin the annual holy month of Ramadan, a time of prayer and fasting that commemorates the divine revelation received by the Prophet Mohamed.
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Muslim Hijri calendar, during which the faithful abstain from eating, drinking, smoking and having sex during daylight and, in the evening, eat small meals and visit friends and family.
It is a month of piety, alms-giving and fasting in order to instill the body and spirit with the rigors of abstinence, a time of worship and contemplation and to strengthen family and community ties.
Observing Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam, the others being the shahada or profession of faith, the obligation to pray five times a day, the giving of alms or zakat and going on pilgrimage to Mecca, the hajj.
The onset of Ramadan, which is determined by observing the crescent moon or by astronomical calculations, can vary from country to country.
Under the Hijri calendar, which has 11 days fewer than the Gregorian, Ramadan will begin this year