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Ramadan To Begin Saturday in Iraq

December 18, 1998

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) _ The Saudi Royal palace announced Friday that a new moon had been sighted, signaling the holy fasting month of Ramadan will begin Saturday in much of the Muslim world, including Iraq.

President Clinton has linked the timing of the U.S.-led air attack on Iraq to a desire to avoid offending Muslims by bombing during Ramadan.

However, U.S. National Security Adviser Sandy Berger said Friday the airstrikes will not necessarily end with the start of Ramadan. ``That is not an automatic deadline,″ Berger said.

Ramadan marks God’s revelation of the Koran, Islam’s holy book, to the Prophet Mohammed about 1,400 years ago. Its start depends on the sighting of the new moon, so it does not always begin on the same day everywhere.

Saudi Arabia, which is the home of Islam’s holiest shrines in Mecca and Medina, was the first Muslim country to announce that Ramadan would begin Saturday.

Later Friday, Iraq, Kuwait, Bahrain and Lebanon all announced the fasting month would begin in their countries on Saturday too. However, Egypt’s chief Islamic official, Mufti Nasr Farid Wassel, said it would start Sunday in Egypt.

Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Legal Council, the country’s top religious body, said in a statement the new moon was spotted in many different parts of the kingdom Friday, so ``Saturday will be the first day of the holy month of Ramadan.″

During the holy month, Muslims abstain from food, drink, smoking and sex during daylight hours as an act of sacrifice and purification.

For Muslims around the world, Ramadan marks a period of bonding with God and family. Extended families gather at sunset, awaiting the blast of a cannon or the start of evening prayer that allows them to break their fast.

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