In most of the Middle East, where Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has sent energy and food prices soaring, the Muslim holy month of Ramadan — when the faithful fast from dawn to sunset — began at sunrise Saturday.

During Ramadan, when huge gatherings over meals and family festivities are customary, the dispute cast a cloud on the holiday. Many Indonesians intended to begin fasting Ramadan on Sunday, and some Shiites in Lebanon, Iran, and Iraq planned to begin observing Ramadan a day later.

Muslims follow a lunar calendar, and different countries may declare the start of Ramadan a day or two apart due to moon-sighting methodology.

Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria, Sudan, and the United Arab Emirates, all Muslim-majority countries, have proclaimed that the month will begin on Saturday morning.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi and de facto head of the United Arab Emirates, greeted Muslims on the advent of Ramadan in a statement carried on Saudi TV on Friday.

Jordan, a mostly Sunni country, has also announced that the first day of Ramadan will be on Sunday, breaking with Saudi Arabia’s tradition. The Islamic religious authorities, according to the monarchy, was unable to identify the crescent moon that marks the beginning of the month.

Muhammadiyah, Indonesia’s second-largest Islamic organization with over 60 million followers, has announced that Ramadan will begin on Saturday, according to their astrological calculations. However, after Islamic astronomers in the country failed to see the new moon on Friday, the country’s religious affairs minister announced that Ramadan would begin on Sunday.

Although the Muhammadiyah has shown dissent in the past, most Indonesians — Muslims account for roughly 90% of the country’s 270 million inhabitants — are expected to adhere to the government’s official date.

After the coronavirus pandemic prevented many of the world’s 2 billion Muslims from participating in various rites for the past two years, many had anticipated for a happier Ramadan.

However, millions of people in the Middle East are now unsure where their next meal will come from as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. From Lebanon, Iraq, and Syria to Sudan and Yemen, the increasing prices are harming individuals whose lives have already been upended by conflict, relocation, and poverty.

Ukraine and Russia export a third of the world’s wheat and barley, which Middle Eastern countries rely on to feed millions of people who consume subsidized bread and low-cost noodles. They are also major exporters of other cereals and frying sunflower seed oil.

In recent years, Egypt, the world’s largest wheat importer, has gotten the majority of its wheat from Russia and Ukraine. Its currency has also depreciated, adding to other price-inflating pressures.

Shoppers in Cairo’s capital stepped out earlier this week to stock up on groceries and holiday decorations, but due to rising prices, many had to buy less than previous year.

Colorful lanterns and lights are strewn across Cairo’s small alleyways and surrounding mosques as part of the Ramadan custom. Some folks with the means set up booths on the streets to serve free Iftar meals to the underprivileged after their fast. The practice is known as “Tables of the Compassionate” in the Islamic world.

“This could help in this scenario,” remarked Rabei Hassan, the muezzin of a mosque in Giza, as he shopped for veggies and other groceries at an adjacent market. “People are fed up with the high pricing.”

Evening prayers, known as “tarawih,” were held in the mosque for several hours. Thousands of pilgrims flocked to the Al-Azhar mosque on Friday evening after the mosque had been closed for the past two years due to the pandemic.
“They were trying (periods)… As he entered Al-Azhar for prayers, Saeed Abdel-Rahman, a 64-year-old retired teacher, observed, “Ramadan without tarawih at the mosque is not Ramadan.”

The problems of the Lebanese, who are already suffering from a huge economic crisis, have been aggravated by rising costs. The currency has fallen in the last two years, plunging the country’s middle class into destitution. Electricity, fuel, and medicine are all in short supply as a result of the collapse.

Few people were shopping at Gaza Strip marketplaces on Friday, which are usually crowded at this time of year. According to merchants, Russia’s conflict on Ukraine has caused prices to increase, in addition to the typical problems, dampening the celebratory ambiance that Ramadan is known for.

The 2.3 million Palestinians living in the impoverished coastal area have difficult living conditions, which have been exacerbated by a punishing Israeli-Egyptian embargo since 2007.

A devastating 11-day battle between Gaza’s Hamas authorities and Israel near the conclusion of Ramadan last year placed a pall over festivities, particularly the Eid Al-Fitr holiday that ends the holy month. It was Israel’s fourth bloody conflict in just over a decade.
The commencement of Ramadan in Iraq showed widespread dissatisfaction with a rapid spike in food costs, which has been compounded in recent months by the crisis in Ukraine.

Suhaila Assam, a 62-year-old retired teacher and women’s rights activist, said she and her retired husband are struggling to make ends meet on their combined monthly pension of $1,000, citing price increases in cooking oil, bread, and other necessities.

“As Iraqis, we use a lot of cooking oil and flour. Almost every meal has it. “How can a five-member family survive?” she wondered.
Akeel Sabah, 38, works as a flour distributor in Baghdad’s Jamila wholesale market, which distributes food to the entire Rasafa region on the Tigris River’s eastern bank. Flour and practically all other products, he explained, are imported, which means wholesalers must pay in dollars. Previously, a ton of flour cost $390. “I paid $625 for the ton today,” he explained.

“Prices had already risen due to the currency depreciation a year ago, but prices are now exploding due to the ongoing (Ukraine) situation.” “Millions of dollars were lost by distributors,” he claimed.

Nearly two years after the renowned former cathedral was transformed into a mosque, Muslims in Istanbul celebrated the first Ramadan prayers in 88 years in the Hagia Sophia.

Friday night, worshippers flocked to the 6th-century structure and the square outside for tarawih prayers conducted by Ali Erbas, the government’s religious affairs chief. COVID-19 limitations had hampered worship at the site, despite it being converted for Islamic use and renamed the Grand Hagia Sophia Mosque in July 2020.

“The Hagia Sophia Mosque has reclaimed the tarawih prayer after 88 years of separation,” Erbas stated, according to the state-run Anadolu Agency.

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