CAIRO — Muslims around the world this week begin the fasting and feasting month of Ramadan amid hopes of violence easing in some of the Islamic world's conflict hotspots but hit hard by rising food prices.
The start of the ninth and holiest month in the Muslim calendar is determined by the sighting of the new moon, which means Muslims in various countries begin Ramadan at dawn either on Sunday, Monday or Tuesday.
Followers are required to abstain from food, drink and sex from dawn to dusk -- and ideally violence -- during the lunar month while gorging on sunset "iftar" meals rendered difficult for many by the global food crisis.
Pakistan's government marked Ramadan by halting a major military campaign against Taliban rebels on its border with Afghanistan, launched after intense pressure from Western nations.
Taliban militants freed six Pakistani soldiers of the 30 they are holding after they drew lots, with the insurgents pledging not to attack others in a "goodwill gesture" to mark the start of Ramadan.
In Iraq, the start of Ramadan saw the US military hand over security control of Anbar, once the most explosive battlefield in Iraq, to local forces.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said that Iraqis will this year celebrate Ramadan as a victory over terrorism amid an overall drop in violence across the country.
In the Philippines, where government troops have been engaged in heavy fighting against Muslim rebels in the south, commanders will make "tactical adjustments" because of Ramadan, an official said.
"We are not pursuing the entire MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) or the Muslim civilian population," armed forces chief General Alexander Yano said on Monday.
Ramadan in Lebanon comes after a break in the country's long-running political -- and sporadic military -- strife which allowed for a relatively good tourist season over the summer.
Soaring food prices have however left many Lebanese worried about making ends meet, with charities working to provide low-income families with food and other necessities to survive the month.
Gulf governments enjoying windfalls from high crude prices and high-profile companies are keen to be seen to be sharing some of their wealth with the less fortunate, splashing out on free iftars for the poor.
With inflation running in double digits in many Muslim nations, governments have been trying to ensure an adequate supply of staples in order to prevent retailers from taking advantage of Ramadan to raise prices.
Many governments have warned that food outlets found increasing their prices could face closure.
In Jordan, authorities reduced prices of fuel by around six percent to help cashed-strapped citizens cope with soaring prices, which more than doubled since last year.
In the impoverished Gaza Strip, Muslims braced for another holiday under a crippling blockade, with Israel having sealed off the territory from all but basic goods since the Islamist Hamas seized power in June 2007.
"Ramadan this year is like any other month, because you don't see any of the things that make it special," says Mohammed Abu Sultan, a father of four shopping for decorative Ramadan lanterns.
Ramadan started on Sunday in Libya, according to a decision by the authorities based on "astronomical calculations" rather than an actual sighting of the new moon.
The calculations mean that the start of Ramadan does not clash with festivities normally reserved for the anniversary of the Libyan revolution on September 1, 1969.
Iranians, still waiting for the new moon to be spotted, are likely to start Ramadan on Tuesday, with office hours cut down from eight to five.
Iranian police have issued a stern warning to crack down on people violating a ban on eating and drinking in public as well as eateries offering food before iftar except for designated places on the roads for travellers.
For many Muslims, Ramadan also means spending time with friends and family watching lavish television productions filmed especially for the festive season.
However, the Egyptian Gazette quoted one man as being "shocked that state-run and privately owned studios wasted 500 million Egyptian pounds (93 million dollars) on producing TV soap operas to be show in Ramadan."
"They did not spend a small fraction of this huge amount of money on helping the poor enjoy a decent meal during this holy month," he said.
Turkish Muslims meanwhile resolved a debate about whether they could resort to appetite suppressing diet patches to get through the daily fast after theologists reassured them they have nothing to worry about.
The patches, cannot be considered as corrupting the fast because their effect amounts to "showering or applying a pomade on the skin" rather than eating, theology professor Kerim Yavuz said.
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