updated 7/30/2011 4:23:47 PM ET 2011-07-30T20:23:47

Religious authorities in most of the Middle East declared that Monday 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.

Official statements issued Saturday in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Syria, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar and Yemen said the holy month will start Monday.

Some countries use astronomical calculations and observatories, while others rely on the naked eye alone, leading sometimes to different starting times in the Middle East.

Political differences and religious disputes between Sunni- and Shiite-majority countries in the region also sometimes play a role in different starting dates for Ramadan.

During the month, Muslims are expected to abstain during daylight hours from food, drink, smoking and sex to focus on spirituality. This year, the long and hot summer days are expected to compound the already tough fast.

To help those fasting cope with the heat, Palestinian officials in the West Bank and Gaza said they will push back the clock one hour. That gives some psychological relief, making it seem as if the time for breaking the fast is coming an hour earlier and lengthening the evening hours.

The region is embroiled in dramatic political change and protests, which are likely to be affected by the fasting season that slows the pace of life and changes daily routines.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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