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It's Official, Ramadan Starts Today and Tomorrow
Ramadan, the Muslim holy period of fasting starts with the sighting of the new moon. That's today--or tomorrow, depending on which country you're in. Turns out, the new moon isn't the only marker. Astrologicial calculations might be a factor. Here's an article that explains this more. Regardless, if you're traveling in a country that's mostly Muslim, it's helpful to be aware of a few pointers so you're not left wandering in the middle of the day looking for a meal--or taking a swig of water or eating in front of people who are abstaining.
Depending on where you are, it's not uncommon for restaurants to be closed after sun up and before sundown. Once the sun goes down, the day's fast is broken and the eating begins. You are not expected to be fasting yourself, but it's helpful to be culturally sensitive, and not create a stir depending on where you are. If you are in a strict Muslim country like Iran, eating and drinking in public is not allowed and you could find yourself in trouble. The Lonely Planet has a helpful guide for traveling in Muslim countries. One suggestion for taking advantage of your travel experiences is to hang out at a restaurant right before it opens, and then enjoy the feast.
So what is this fasting about you might be wondering?
This is when Muslims commemorate when Allah (God) revealed the Quran to the prophet Mohammed. During this time, Muslims are to purify themselves in mind and body by devoting themselves to endeavors of the spirit. Fasting is a practice of showing devotion to Allah and to strengthen resolve to be a better person. Giving to charity is also important during this time. (Okay, what I've presented is the condensed version.)
By the way, the country with the largest Muslim population is Indonesia. And the Gambia, where I was in the Peace Corps, is also mostly Muslim--both are quite diverse from each other. In Singapore, because there is a large Muslim population who live there, the first and last day of Ramadan are also holidays.