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Ramadan begins in many parts of the Middle East, amid rising prices

Ramadan, the holy month of Islam when Muslims fast from dawn until dusk, began Saturday at sunrise in most of the Middle East.

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Ramadan begins in many parts of the Middle East, amid rising prices

This was after Russia's invasion and subsequent rise in food and energy prices.

Ramadan is a time when families gather for meals and celebrate with their loved ones. Many people in Indonesia, a Southeast Asian nation, planned to observe Ramadan on Sunday. Shiites from Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon also observed Ramadan one day later.

Muslims use a lunar calendar. Different countries may declare Ramadan starting on a different day depending on how they view the moon.

The United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Syria and Saudi Arabia are all Muslim-majority countries. They declared that the month will begin on Saturday morning.

Friday's Saudi statement was broadcast on state-run Saudi TV. Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan (the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, and de facto leader in the United Arab Emirates), congratulated Muslims for Ramadan's arrival.

Jordan, a Sunni country and a major contributor to the Islamic religion, said that Ramadan's first day would fall on Sunday. This is a departure from Saudi Arabia. According to the kingdom, the Islamic religious authority could not spot the crescent moon that indicated the start of the month.

Muhammadiyah, Indonesia's second largest Islamic group, announced that Ramadan began Saturday according to its astronomical calculations. After Islamic astronomers failed to see the new moon, the country's religious affairs minister announced that Ramadan would begin on Sunday.

Although the Muhammadiyah did not offer a different opinion, most Indonesians, which include nearly 90% of its 270 million inhabitants, are expected to adhere to the government's official date.

Many had hoped for more joyous Ramadan following the two-year-long coronavirus pandemic that prevented 2 billion Muslims around the world from participating in many religious rituals.

Millions of Middle East residents are now worried about where their next meal will come from after Russia invaded Ukraine. People whose lives have been ruined by war, displacement, and poverty in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and Sudan to name a few are now suffering from the rising prices.

Ukraine and Russia account respectively for one third and two thirds of the world's wheat and barley exports. This is vital for Middle East countries as they rely on them to provide food for millions of people who eat subsidized bread or bargain noodles. They are also the top exporters of sunflower seed oil and other grains used in cooking.

In recent years, Egypt has received the majority of its wheat from Russia, Ukraine, and other countries. The currency has also fallen, which adds to the pressures that have driven up prices.

This week, shoppers in Cairo went out to get groceries and decorations. However, many were forced to spend less this year due to the high prices.

Ramadan tradition calls to colorful lanterns and lights strung through Cairo's narrow alleyways and around mosques. People who have the resources to set up tables in the streets for poor people to serve free Iftar meals. This practice is called "Tables of the Compassionate" in the Islamic world.

Rabei Hassan (the muezzin of Giza's mosque) said that this could be a solution to the situation. He bought vegetables from a nearby marketplace and also other food items. People are sick of the high prices."

After being banned from attending mosques for two years, worshippers flocked to al-Azhar mosque in order to end the pandemic.

"They were difficult (times)... Ramadan without tarawih in the mosque is not Ramadan," stated Saeed Abdel-Rahman, a retired teacher of 64 years as he entered al-Azhar to pray.

The economic woes of Lebanese, already in a severe economic crisis, were exacerbated by the soaring prices. The country's middle classes were plunged into poverty over the past two-years after the currency crashed. A severe shortage of electricity, fuel, and medicine has resulted from the meltdown.

Few people were out shopping in Gaza Strip's Friday markets, which are usually packed this time of the year. According to merchants, Russia's war against Ukraine has caused prices to skyrocket, along with the usual challenges. This is putting a damper in the festive atmosphere Ramadan creates.

The conditions for the 2.3 million Palestinians living in the coastal area are difficult. This is compounded by the crippling Israeli-Egyptian Blockade that has been in place since 2007.

A deadly 11-day war between Israel and Gaza's Hamas rulers erupted at the end Ramadan 2013. It shook the festive season, including Eid al-Fitr, which follows the holy month. This was the fourth bloody war with Israel in a little over a decade.

The start of Ramadan in Iraq highlighted widespread dissatisfaction over the rapid rise in food prices. This was made worse by the conflict in Ukraine.

Suhaila, a retired teacher and women's rights activist aged 62, stated that she and her husband struggle to live on their joint pension of $1,000 per month. The prices of food, flour, and other essentials have more than doubled.

"We use flour and cooking oil a lot as Iraqis. Nearly every meal is prepared with cooking oil and flour. She asked, "How can a family with five members survive?"

Akeel Sbah, 38, works as a distributor of flour in the Jamila wholesale marketplace. This market supplies Baghdad's Rasafa District on the eastern side the Tigris River. He explained that flour and most other food items are imported so distributors must pay in dollars. A ton of flour was once $390. He said, "Today I purchased the ton for $625."

"The currency devaluation of a year ago already caused an increase in prices. But with the ongoing (Ukraine), crisis, prices have soared. He said that distributors lost millions.

Istanbul saw Muslims hold the first Ramadan prayers for 88 years in Hagia Sophia. This was almost two years after the famous cathedral was converted to a mosque.

Friday night, worshippers filled the building from the 6th century and the square to hear Ali Erbas's tarawih prayers. The Grand Hagia Sophia Mosque was renamed to Islamic use in July 2020. However, COVID-19 restrictions have limited worship at this site.

According to the state-run Anadolu Agency, Erbas stated that the Hagia Sophia Mosque had regained tarawih after 88 years of seperation.

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