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Ramadan Begins This Weekend

December 17, 1998

The world’s 1 billion Muslims begin the fasting month of Ramadan this weekend, during which they abstain from food, drink, smoking and sex from dawn to dusk as an act of sacrifice and purification.

Out of deference to allies in the Muslim world, President Clinton said he launched his air and missile attacks on Iraq so as not to coincide with the beginning of Ramadan.

Ramadan _ which marks God’s revelation of the Koran, Islam’s holy book, to the Prophet Mohammed some 1,400 years ago _ begins Saturday or Sunday, depending on the sighting of the moon.

Most clerics expect Ramadan to begin Sunday in Iraq and in most of the 53 member states of the Organization of the Islamic Conference that represents the world’s Muslim populace.

Since Ramadan’s timing is based on the lunar calendar _ shorter than the Western Gregorian one _ its dates change each year.

Ramadan lasts 29 or 30 days, again depending on the sighting of the crescent moon. The fast will end with the three-day feast of Eid al-Fitr, one of the Muslim world’s biggest holidays.

Muslim countries begin and end Ramadan with a difference of a day because they rely on their own clerics’ sighting of the moon.

Iran, which is predominantly of the Shiite Muslim sect, usually begins and ends Ramadan a day after most Sunni Muslim countries.

Throughout the month of Ramadan, extended families gather at sunset, awaiting the blast of a cannon or the start of the evening prayer that allows them to break their fast.

In Iraq, people who eat, drink or smoke in public during the day face up to one month in prison during Ramadan.

Police can arrest people who eat in public in the more observant Muslim countries like Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. In Bahrain, violators can be punished by having their heads shaved. In Saudi Arabia, foreign violators are deported.

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