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Astronomers and scholars debate start of Ramadan

Amer Hilabi / AFP - Getty Images

Saudis use a telescope to monitor the new moon of Ramadan as astronomers and scholars of Islam debate when the holy Muslim month of Ramadan begins, in the Saudi city of Taif on Thursday, July 19. The start of the fasting month, when the faithful abstain from eating from dawn to sunset, is determined by the sighting of the new moon.

On the eve of Ramadan, astronomers and scholars consult the sky to determine the precise starting date. Since the Muslim holy month starts at the sighting of the new moon, the exact date is not known far in advance. This has caused issues for some European Muslims. Jordanians begin Ramadan on Friday, while Muslims in the West Bank began Thursday.

Mohammad Hannon / AP

A Jordanian man looks at decorations for Ramadan in Amman, Jordan, Thursday, July 19. Religious authorities in Jordan declared that Friday will be the start of the holy month of Ramadan, a period devoted to dawn-to-dusk fasting, prayers and spiritual introspection. Ramadan begins around 11 days earlier each year. Its start is calculated based on the sighting of the new moon, which marks the beginning of the Muslim lunar month that varies between 29 or 30 days.

Nasser Ishtayeh / AP

A Palestinian boy plays with fireworks as he celebrates the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in the West Bank city of Nablus, Thursday, July 19.