Saudi Arabia, home to Islam’s holiest sites, announced it would start the Muslim holy month of Ramadan on Saturday.
“Tomorrow, Saturday will be the first day of the blessed month of Ramadan,” the kingdom said Friday, in a statement carried by the official SPA news agency.
Traditionally, many Muslim-majority countries have followed dates set by Saudi religious authorities, but in recent years, many have used their own astronomic calculations.
Four other Arab countries of the Gulf, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, and the UAE, have also announced the Saturday start of Ramadan, while Oman said it is expected to begin a day later.
The starting date of the dawn-dusk fasting month of Ramadan is determined by both lunar calculations and physical sightings of a new moon.
Observant Muslims refrain from eating and drinking from dawn to dusk and traditionally gather with family and friends to break their fast in the evening.
It is also a time of prayers, during which Muslims converge in large numbers on mosques, especially at night.
Ramadan is a holy month for the world’s more than 1.5 billion Muslims.
According to tradition, Ramadan marks the time that Prophet Mohammed started receiving revelations from the Muslim holy book, the Koran.
Ramadan is one of the five “pillars” of Islam.
The others are the profession of faith (“there is no God but God and Mohammed is his messenger”), the obligation to pray five times a day, charity, and the pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in a believer’s lifetime.